Finding Hope


With a big uptick in mental health-related calls, training for Boise Police officers adapts

With a big uptick in mental health calls, training for Boise Police officers adapts
Posted at 12:07 AM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 18:23:14-04

BOISE — Boise Police officers have their hands full. They say nearly 70 percent of calls they get on a day-to-day basis are mental health-related.

"When we deal with people, you know, 9 times out of 10, they're in crisis. People don't call us on a great day just to tell us things are going well," said Capt. Ron Winegar with the Boise Police Department.

But the definition of crisis has shifted a bit in Captain Winegar's 25 years on the police force. Today, the majority of calls Boise Police officers are handling deal with mental health. Winegar said, "We go to dozens and dozens of those calls every week."
And that has prompted changes and updates to the training police officers once knew.

"We have our academy and then we have a field training program," said Winegar.

Then after academy, officers go one-on-one with a Training Officer, spending several months out on the streets in real life situations.

"Once that's through and we're confident that they are ready to meet those challenges and tasks on their own, then and only then will they be placed out on the streets in a patrol car," said Winegar.

And at some point, early on in their careers, officers are trained in 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team training, or CIT. Then, when the call comes, officers are trained to approach every call as if someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis. "The easy-to-spot, somebody talking to themself or clenching their fists and angry without a stimuli," said Winegar.

But, as has always been the case, their first and foremost goal is to ensure safety for the public. Winegar said, "We will address things like weapons, threats before we assess whether someone's in a mental health crisis or not."

And whether or not they are in the midst of a mental health crisis, de-escalation is the primary tactic. "De-escalation works for all of those things, when it works,” said Winegar.

But, sometimes de-escalation doesn't work, and it's in those cases where officers have to use their last resort.

"Sometimes force is obviously necessary, and I guess that's why they call it law enforcement, but certainly that's not our goal," said Winegar.

To learn more about the resources Boise Police Department provides to those in the midst of crises, watch this:

To learn about how a 2009 standoff between Boise Police Officers and a veteran helped provide new training for officers, click here.