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Mental health advocates say police need more training

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Mental health advocates in North Carolina say more law enforcement officers need training on how to deal with people who have mental illness.

Debi DiHoff with the North Carolina Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, says just about 22 percent of all law enforcement in North Carolina have training for what's called Crisis Intervention Teams, or C.I.T.  The voluntary program gives officers up to 40 hours of training on how to talk with mentally ill subjects and how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.

"Our goal is to have a trained C.I.T. officer on every shift in every law enforcement agency in the state and we're not there yet," DiHoff said.

In Durham, Capt. Elijah Bazemore with the Sheriff's Office says, on any given day, 20 percent of detention center inmates have some type of mental illness. That's why he says the training is critical.

"We try to deal with the citizens and make it as less dehumanizing as possible," Capt. Bazemore said, "so the citizen is not embarrassed."

Bazemore and DiHoff say the training should be mandatory across all law enforcement agencies, but they acknowledge it can be time-consuming and costly for some smaller, more rural departments to implement.

COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS

Even agencies with C.I.T. trained officers have run into problems with communication.

In Durham, information about the suicidal past of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, conveyed on a 9-1-1 call, was not shared with the Durham police officer who arrested him on the morning of Nov. 19, 2013. Preliminary reports suggest the arresting officer missed a gun during a search of Huerta. Reports suggest Huerta later shot and killed himself with that gun in the backseat of a patrol car.

In March of 2013, a Wake County Sheriff's Deputy shot and killed 35-year-old Jonathan Cunningham after the mentally ill man stole a patrol car. Cunningham was not handcuffed and had been sitting in the front seat.

"There was a communication made that he had a tendency to grab the steering wheel," DiHoff said, "and that communication failed to be shared with the proper authorities."

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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