Police officers are often on the front lines when it comes to dealing with mental health issues in the community.
That is one reason McKinney’s Police Chief Greg Conley is requiring every officer to undergo crisis intervention training through a week-long program at Collin College, offered only several times a year.
Officer Terry Qualls is McKinney PD’s crisis intervention coordinator. He said calls for crisis situations have continually increased in recent years – with no signs of slowing down.
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“It is actually up by about 20 percent from last year,” Qualls said. “It could be the economy. It could be family issues.”
Qualls said that in 2016 so far, they have received approximately 450 calls for someone dealing with a mental health issue.
“That’s why we focus a lot on the de-escalation skills,” Qualls said, which include taking time and plenty of talking.
NBC 5 Reporter Homa Bash and Photojournalist Lyle Davis were able to get a behind-the-scenes look at the final crisis intervention training class of 2016, during which law enforcement officers go through various scenarios – sometimes with real people.
One of those people is John Gaglione, a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is an illness he did not realize he had until years after returning from the war.
Gaglione was a machine gunner, sometimes spending 30 to 40 days in the bush.
“It was very hard,” Gaglione said. “I didn’t realize I had depression, so I started drinking, turning to other things.”
These days, Gaglione is turning to help law enforcement by playing a role he knows all too well.
“Because you don’t know what the person is going to do. If they’re with PTSD, you definitely don’t know what they’re going to do,” Gaglione said.
Which is why the only thing police can do is train – and train again.
“Especially with mental health issues, we’re not taking a bank robber down, we’re taking someone who has called us to help them,” said Professor Richard Rossman. “We want officers to know how to help them.”
Rossman said they are also hoping to re-train the community to call resources that can better help than police.
Many Collin County law enforcement personnel also must be re-trained because on January 1, the county will be run by a new mental health authority, LifePath.