BOISE — Boise Police have their hands full with mental health calls. They say nearly 70 percent of calls they get are related to mental health, and that's caused their training to change over the last ten years.
A piece of that change in training, came out of a shootout between Boise Police officers and George Nickel in the summer of 2009. George nickel had returned from deployment in Iraq and found himself in the middle of a mental health crisis when he went searching for his dog, and ended up in a shootout.
“At one point I did point a firearm at the police, so they responded the way they were trained to respond," said George Nickel, Veteran and now Director of Student and Veteran Affairs at the Wyakin Foundation.
After he pointed at police, BPD fired fourteen rounds back at George, who said, "It wasn't my first time being shot at."
George is a veteran who spent time serving in Iraq. He returned from active duty in 1997 with physical scars, but mental ones as well; those were the traumas George said he didn't want to address, "I was masking everything with alcohol, on top of some medications I were on." All of that was paired with depression, PTSD, anxiety, and lack of sleep, all contributing factors when George found himself in the middle of a standoff.
"At that point, where I was at in 2009, I didn't care about life or death," said George. Fortunately, Boise Police officers did care, and they attempted every de-escalation tactic to bring George to a more coherent state.
"One of the reasons I pointed a firearm at them is because I had no clue who they were," said George.
And the police lights and sirens flashing in the parking lot of his apartment complex, didn't help his situation.
"Even after shots were fired, there was actually one officer who, kind of like, his voice was above everyone else's and it was that connection is what brought everything back down," said George.
Everyone left the scene uninjured. Following that, George spent eight months in jail, then a judge ruled probation and therapy, instead of 15 years in prison. And despite the trauma of that standoff in July of '09, "I was approached by, then, Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, and he actually approached me cause he wanted to make a training video for law enforcement," said George.
They use that training as a way for officers to look at the way they responded to the situation then, and adjust their response when they approach people in the midst of a mental health crisis going forward.
Find out what resources Boise Police's Mental Health Coordinator Penelope Hansen helps with when it comes to those in the midst of mental health crises, here: