Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento council approves mental illness training for police

Sacramento City Council members on Thursday unanimously approved giving all Sacramento police officers a week of training to better deal with people with mental illness.

Patrol officers and dispatchers most likely to encounter mentally ill people during daily duty will be the first to receive the 40 hours of crisis-intervention training.

The department has about 250 patrol officers and 60 dispatchers it hopes to send through training by the end of the year, said Capt. Mark Greenlee. Other sworn officers will follow, with the full department of about 750 officers trained over two years, he said.

The training will cost about $750,000. The department intends to look for grants, but Mayor Darrell Steinberg said this week that he would seek to use city funding if necessary.

“There is a great sense of urgency in improving Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “Let’s get going.”

Crisis Intervention Team training is widely used across the United States, and teaches officers to recognize and de-escalate situations with noncompliant or difficult people. Currently, Sacramento police take an eight-hour “awareness” version, according to department spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein.

Training experts invited by Steinberg stressed Thursday that their program is intended to be part of a larger de-escalation and prevention effort that ensures that mental health services are available. They also said officers need somewhere other than jails or emergency rooms to take people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Councilman Steve Hansen said he supports the training because he believes everyone has a responsibility to help people with mental illness. But he acknowledged that training cannot solve the legitimate challenges many of them face, such as a lack of housing or services.

Many community members supported the plan Thursday, including activist groups that have pushed for greater transparency and accountability in the Police Department.

“I hope that what we are about to do is take the humane approach moving forward to truly de-escalate,” said attorney and activist Mark Harris during public comments.

Harris held a white envelope that contained the personal effects of Dazion Jerome Flenaugh, a mentally ill homeless man killed by police in April after an encounter that went from calm to violent in minutes. He said police had just released the belongings and that he was taking them to Flenaugh’s family Friday.

Last week, police released video and audio of the Flenaugh incident, and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office released findings that the three officers involved acted lawfully. That shooting – along with the July shooting of Joseph Mann, another mentally ill homeless man whose encounter with police escalated quickly and ended fatally – have led to a series of police changes in recent months.

Councilman Jeff Harris said the crisis training would be “money well spent. … It goes both ways: It protects not only the community but the police, as well.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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