Prince William officers undergo training to handle situations involving people with mental illness

- In a dramatization, Officer Matthew McKee is using techniques he learned during the Prince William County Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team training.

“It's allowing them to express their issue and just being personable with them,” said McKee. “One of the things we learned is patience.”

McKee is one of 22 officers who completed intensive 40-hour training on tactics to safely deescalate incidents with people experiencing mental health or intellectual disability crises.

“We allow them to voice their concern,” said McKee. “We address those concerns. We label and identify some of the emotions that they might be having.”

“One of the things they do in the training is they have what's called hearing voices,” said Andrea Shea, a highly trained emergency services therapist. “They listen to a headset with voices and then we have them do activities -- like have to read a chapter, take a test or go to like a little fake store, so they're hearing voices like someone does and that's a big impact because they're like I had no idea that someone walks around hearing these voices all the time in their head.”

Shea said she wishes the Crisis Intervention Team training was mandatory for police.

"After they've taken the class, they'll email me, they'll call me, they're so excited,” she said. “They're like, ‘Oh my gosh, I got to talk this person into going to the hospital. They didn't fight me. They were really nice.’ One officer even said as soon as they saw their pin, that person immediately calmed down.”

Each Crisis Intervention Team training graduate has a “CIT” pin.

“It's someone who understands and has had specialized training,” said Shea.

Officer McKee has been on the force for five years and said he has learned something new.

“I had no idea how large the stigma is with people that suffer from mental health issues,” he told us. “Understanding that has helped me realize that they didn't choose that, but I need to help them get the help that they need.”

In Prince William County, the Crisis Intervention Team training is not mandatory for officers, but is strongly encouraged.

On the heels of the Natasha McKenna case in Fairfax, an influx of officers is signing up for the specialized training.

In Prince William County, officers reportedly encounter someone with mental illness at least once a day.

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