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A Tragic Plea for More Mental Health Training for Law Enforcement

When Desmond Phillip was shot and killed by two Chico, Calif., police officers, the city’s police department was not prepared to appropriately handle the situation. It might have been yet another tragic incident that could have been prevented, but community outcry and requests for more mental health crisis training for local law enforcement may change that. (“Chico Pleas for More Mental Health Training After Man Fatally Shot by Police,” ChicoER News, March 25, 2017).

“He was a young man with serious brain and mental health issues who was in crisis. He was not a criminal,” said Paul O’Rourke-Babb, a local nurse practitioner who has worked in psychiatric care. “This death was both avoidable and unnecessary. This killing should never, ever happen again.”

Phillips was diagnosed with epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder after a head injury sustained in 2015. On March 17, Phillips’ father called 9-1-1 for help because his son was acting erratically. The two officers who arrived on scene first employed a stun gun, and later several bullets to diffuse the situation, killing Phillips.

Lisa Currier, founder of Crisis Care Advocacy and Triage, said the county needs more people trained to handle and respond to mental health crises. Partnerships need to be improved and care needs to be emphasized.

“We have to learn how to speak to [people in crisis]. We have to be able to de-escalate the situation. A lot of times (though not always), that’s all it takes,” Currier said.

The recent trend of police shootings involving individuals with mental health problems is just one reason Mental Health First Aid has a specific module for law enforcement and public safety. This training’s foundation rests upon the concept that all public safety professionals need to better understand mental illnesses and addictions and provides them with effective response options to de-escalate incidents without compromising safety.

We firmly believe that more specialized training in mental health issues will lead to very different outcomes compared to Desmond Phillips’ experience. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid today and #BeTheDifference in your community.