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Local Law Enforcement Workers Discuss Better Ways to Handle Mental Illness Cases

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Newton County, Missouri -

Local law enforcement workers say they're seeing more cases involving mental illnesses.  Every case is different, but law officers say there's a common necessity that should be used to keep these situations, in particular, from becoming more serious.

The focus of a seminar at Crowder College today wasn't on physical combative techniques, but understanding.

The goal of these law enforcement workers is to do more talking about more thinking.

"Not all the topics are fun to talk about.  But it's stuff we really do need to talk about," says Oren Barnes, teacher of this seminar.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, two-million jail bookings each year involve a person with mental illness.  One in four people killed in officer-involved shootings has a serious mental illness.

Barnes says, "Are they supposed to be on medication, and they're not on medication?"

Barnes is also a Newton County reserve deputy.

"The mental health crisis in our country has become huge," says Newton County Deputy Cameron Kruse.

Kruse is one of 32 other law enforcement workers in this special seminar.  The first topic of discussion:  Bias.

"There's bias in everyone," says Barnes.

Police respond to a call and may assume a combative person is intentionally unruly.  There's no indication to think otherwise.

"Being able to identify that there's a mental health issue in play, rather than criminal or behavior, is key," says Kruse.

Take a step back and further analyze the situation.  It's easier said than done during a heated, fast-paced emergency response.  But law enforcement workers say it's important.

Barnes says, "They're aggressive.  OK.  Is there something else?  Is there somebody that we can ask?  Is this something that has happened in the past?  Is there something that brings this person down?"

Law enforcement workers say remembering these types of questions can prevent a situation from getting worse.  Above all, though, knowing what's really going on can ensure a person gets proper help, even after arrest.

Law enforcement workers were also reminded that care for mental illness is especially important for people behind bars.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses, about 15% of men and 30% of women in local jails have a serious mental illness.

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