Lawmakers look at mandatory police training on mentally ill

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-27 20:16:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers are holding hearings on police use of force, and contemplating new state laws or rules for when officers can use it.

The hearings are in response to a spate of deadly shootings involving Utah police officers in recent years. On Monday, the legislature's Administrative Rules Committee took testimony on how officers are dealing with the mentally ill.

"The problem is addressing the situation and how you address it," said Clint Anderson, who testified that he has been diagnosed with psychosis and hallucinations.

Anderson said officers could use better training on how to respond to people with mental illnesses, stepping back from an aggressive stance and considering things from the point of view of a person who may be having a psychotic episode.

"A few seconds of: 'What are you doing? What's going on?' Those kinds of things as opposed to 'Hands on the... !'" Anderson said of encounters with law enforcement.

The committee is considering whether to make what is commonly known as "crisis intervention training" mandatory for every officer in the state of Utah. Right now, police academies do offer cadets some level of training -- but it is not required.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who is also a Utah Highway Patrol trooper, said he recently underwent crisis intervention training. He said it was valuable and has already helped him in dealing with people on the streets -- but he stopped short of calling on it for every law enforcement officer.

"Let's not do something that is knee-jerk, that we say, 'This is the bandage that's gonna fix the problem' when it won't fix it. I don't think body cameras will fix it all, I don't think CIT training is going fix it all. I think it's a great tool," Rep. Perry said.

Even if they wanted to offer it -- they couldn't, said Scott Stephenson, the director of Utah's Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST).

"The challenges are going to be cost and time and demands of the majority of law enforcement in Utah, which is rural," Stephenson told the committee.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said he supported making the CIT training mandatory -- but said lawmakers have not addressed some root problems.

"Quite frankly, you have a criminal justice system that has criminalized poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and it hasn't solved any of those problems throughout history," Burbank said.

More hearings on use of force are scheduled in the coming months. Any legislation would be introduced next year.