Innovative police tactics are emerging for mental health crises

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DECATUR, Ill. – FOX 2 was allowed access Wednesday to a state-of-the-art police training complex aimed at reducing violence. The multi-million-dollar complex was built in Decatur, Illinois, to look like a town, with inside and outside spaces so that police can practice intervention tactics before drawing a firearm.

“This is going to save lives” when responding to a mental health call, retired police Sgt. Raphael Thornton of Camden, New Jersey, said.

“We don’t have to rush in there, make split-second decisions, and be judged for the rest of our lives,” he said. “It’s saying we can slow things down, take our time, and create space, actually keep ourselves safer and make better decisions based off of time and, statistically, the longer things play out, the more they play in our favor.”

Thornton even led one scenario, portraying an angry factory worker and challenging an officer from Florida. They then debriefed on how it went.

“To make the mistakes or have the successes, that really creates a well-rounded officer,” Dan Alioto said.

Alioto is with the group that puts on the training: the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum.

It was created after stories of police officers sometimes shooting and killing citizens who turned out to be unarmed. They are dangerous situations, but they are also events in which the trainers want the police to consider more options.

“This curriculum is not based on not using force; it’s based on exerting every option prior to using force and always keeping the officer in a winnable position,” Thornton said.

The complex was just completed this past May, with meeting rooms and an entire main street where officers can practice what’s known as Integrated Communications, Assessments, and Tactics, or ICAT.

Alioto added, “…slowing things down, not getting caught in a culture or speed where everything has to be done quickly. When you’re dealing with somebody who’s in emotional crisis or chronically mentally ill, that actually works against you.”

Clayton Police Chief Mark Smith wanted to see it firsthand before sending his men and women. He found the guidelines to be similar to how SWAT might handle a call.

“They don’t rush into the house right away,” Smith said. “They surround it, develop a plan. They talk about who’s going to do the communication, who’s going to have less lethal, who’s going to have lethal cover. Why can’t we use those tactics at the street level?”

St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy has been to the training with his command staff from captains down to street patrol.

“They were here for the grand opening,” Alioto said.

The training is free of charge for all of 2024, as long as a police officer can get themselves to the Decatur, Illinois, facility.


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