Po­lice men­tal cri­sis train­ing misses mark

Few changes af­ter $1.2M in­vest­ment

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page -

The plan was an­nounced a week be­fore Christ­mas 2014 and felt like a gift to a city that had been roil­ing for months.

At last, Mil­wau­kee would adopt a bet­ter way for po­lice to han­dle peo­ple in the midst of a men­tal health cri­sis. No one wanted an­other Don­tre Hamil­ton tragedy.

Hamil­ton, 31, a roofer with a his­tory of sui­cide at­tempts and schizophre­nia, was sleep­ing in Red Ar­row Park down­town at lunchtime on April 30, 2014. A clerk at the nearby Star­bucks called po­lice to com­plain that Hamil­ton was scar­ing cus­tomers.

Re­port­ing for this piece was done by Dan Rabb, Aisha Ab­dool Karim, Mustafa Za­far Mirza and Amanda Rosen­garten of Columbia Univer­sity Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Meg Kissinger, a Jour­nal Sen­tinel re­porter who was a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Columbia from 2016 to 2018.

Po­lice re­ports show that two of­fi­cers ar­rived, ques­tioned Hamil­ton and told the clerk he was do­ing noth­ing wrong. They did the same when she called again. Later, Of­fi­cer Christo­pher Man­ney picked up a mes­sage from his cell phone and, un­aware the other of­fi­cers had been at the park, went there him­self.

Man­ney came from be­hind Hamil­ton

and yanked him up, plac­ing his hands un­der Hamil­ton’s arms and on his chest. A star­tled Hamil­ton grabbed Man­ney’s ba­ton and the two be­gan to scuf­fle. The of­fi­cer pulled out his ser­vice re­volver and shot Hamil­ton 14 times. He died at the scene.

Po­lice re­ports iden­ti­fied Hamil­ton as home­less, but he had been liv­ing in a group home for peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness and was un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a so­cial worker. Con­fused about the voices in his head, he was too scared to stay at the fa­cil­ity, so he walked down­town that day and wan­dered around be­fore fall­ing asleep in the park.

Mayor Tom Bar­rett heard the shots from his City Hall office and ran to the win­dow.

“I can re­mem­ber right where I was sit­ting when this hap­pened,” Bar­rett said.

Hamil­ton’s death sparked months of out­rage in Mil­wau­kee. When word came that Man­ney would not be pros­e­cuted, pro­test­ers marched up high­way en­trances and sur­rounded City Hall.

Eight months af­ter the shoot­ing, Bar­rett met pri­vately with the Hamil­ton fam­ily and their lawyer and vowed that the city would use the tragedy as a cat­a­lyst for change. Mo­ments later, they stood somber-faced be­fore a bank of TV cam­eras.

Bar­rett pledged that Mil­wau­kee would re­quire all po­lice of­fi­cers to re­ceive 40 hours of in­struc­tion in a pro­gram known as Cri­sis In­ter­ven­tion Team train­ing. The project would take three years and cost $1.2 mil­lion, of which $500,000 would come from a grant from the Greater Mil­wau­kee Foundation. The Hamil­ton fam­ily had pushed for the train­ing.

Tears ran down Nate Hamil­ton’s face at the idea that some good might come from the death of his younger brother. No one seems to care about peo­ple like Don­tre, Nate told the re­porters. Maybe this will help.

Their plan did not work out the way he had hoped.

A Columbia Univer­sity Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that Mil­wau­kee and other cities have ig­nored warn­ings from the de­vel­op­ers of CIT that they should not re­quire all of­fi­cers to take the train­ing.

That sort of ap­proach, the founders say, only wors­ens ten­sion be­tween po­lice and those they are meant to pro­tect.

Cri­sis In­ter­ven­tion Team a ‘spe­cial­ist model’

Of all the men­tal health train­ing pro­grams for po­lice, CIT is held up as the gold standard. The course was de­vel­oped in Mem­phis 30 years ago af­ter po­lice shot and killed a man with a knife who was threat­en­ing sui­cide. The case sparked de­mands that po­lice be bet­ter trained on how to ap­proach peo­ple who are men­tally ill and may be dan­ger­ous.

Sam Cochran, then a lieu­tenant in the Mem­phis de­part­ment, helped to de­sign the pro­gram as a “spe­cial­ist model,” much like a SWAT team or gang squad.

The idea is to make it a point of pride and pres­tige to be on the team.

The pro­gram has three ba­sic prin­ci­ples:

❚ All of­fi­cers par­tic­i­pate vol­un­tar­ily. ❚ They re­ceive con­tin­u­ous train­ing on how to deal with peo­ple in cri­sis.

❚ And of­fi­cers are ex­pected to build re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple in the com­mu­nity who have men­tal ill­ness.

The idea is that when dis­patch­ers get calls about peo­ple in cri­sis, they can send the of­fi­cers who know them best.

About half of the of­fi­cers who vol­un­teer for the spe­cial-team train­ing na­tion­wide have a fam­ily mem­ber or friend with men­tal ill­ness.

When of­fi­cers know the peo­ple in the com­mu­nity and what their is­sues are, any such con­fronta­tions are less likely to end badly, Cochran said.

“CIT is a lot more than just train­ing,” Cochran said. “It’s a whole dif­fer­ent way of polic­ing. You have to want to do it to make it work.”

But, in re­cent years, as deadly en­coun­ters with po­lice have at­tracted more at­ten­tion —par­tic­u­larly on so­cial me­dia — cities such as Mil­wau­kee are re­quir­ing all of­fi­cers to com­plete the train­ing.

As a re­sult, po­lice de­part­ments are spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in train­ing that runs counter to the way the pro­gram was de­signed, the Columbia Univer­sity ex­am­i­na­tion found. Re­search shows that forc­ing the pro­gram on un­will­ing of­fi­cers has made some more re­sent­ful and po­ten­tially more prone to vi­o­lence against peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness.

CIT train­ing has dou­bled in the past five years. To­day, nearly one-third of all po­lice de­part­ments have some form of the train­ing.

The rush to ex­pand the pro­gram in the wake of high-pro­file tragedies may stave off law­suits and gar­ner fa­vor­able me­dia at­ten­tion, but it can undo years of build­ing strong re­la­tion­ships, the founders say.

Yet, their warn­ings go un­heeded. Min­neapolis is con­sid­er­ing CIT for all its of­fi­cers. New York City is in the midst of train­ing all of its 36,000 of­fi­cers.

2004 in­ci­dent sparked need for train­ing

Mil­wau­kee was ac­tu­ally one of the first cities to em­brace the clas­sic Mem­phis model af­ter the 2004 death of Michael Blucher, a baby-faced 18-year-old with a his­tory of hal­lu­ci­na­tions and delu­sions.

Of­fi­cer Tommy Wil­son, a three-year-vet­eran, was work­ing alone that night and had no train­ing for how to deal with some­one in a psy­chi­atric cri­sis. He was sent to in­ves­ti­gate a re­port about a man who had hit a girl on the head with an or­na­men­tal Samu­rai sword.

The girl’s par­ents had ar­rived home from a nearby bar to find their daugh­ter on the front lawn, bleed­ing and Blucher in the kitchen. The fa­ther had a gun and fired a shot at the wall. The mother had a knife and had slashed Blucher in the arm.

Wil­son found Blucher in the front of the house, hold­ing two knives, and scream­ing that he wanted the of­fi­cer to shoot him.

Wil­son tried to stall as he waited for back-up, or­der­ing Blucher to go back into the kitchen where the girl’s par­ents were. Blucher re­fused, and started com­ing to­ward Wil­son with the knives, beg­ging the of­fi­cer to kill him. Wil­son shot Blucher three times in the chest, killing him in­stantly.

The of­fi­cer was so dis­traught that he had to be car­ried from the scene.

Po­lice of­fi­cers them­selves be­gan to de­mand bet­ter train­ing.

Sandy Pasch, a psy­chi­atric nurse, brought Cochran to town to talk about his pro­gram and helped or­ga­nize the first classes.

“We had to do some­thing,” she said. “A death like this was just heart­break­ing.”

In Wis­con­sin, it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for po­lice to know how to deal with peo­ple in a psy­chi­atric cri­sis be­cause of how of­ten po­lice are called to deal with a per­son who is threat­en­ing harm. State law that re­quires po­lice — not a doc­tor or fam­ily mem­ber — to be­gin an emer­gency hos­pi­tal­iza­tion of peo­ple who may be dan­ger­ous to them­selves or oth­ers.

Mary Neubauer, co-chair of Mil­wau­kee’s Men­tal Health Task Force and a mem­ber of the county’s Men­tal Health Board, was a great fan of the new train­ing and one of its first train­ers. She helped of­fi­cers un­der­stand what it felt and looked like to have hal­lu­ci­na­tions and delu­sions. Of­fi­cers wore spe­cial gog­gles and head­phones to help them ex­pe­ri­ence what a psy­chotic break felt like.

“It was cool to see of­fi­cers get Neubauer said.

Nan Hegerty, then po­lice chief, was en­thu­si­as­tic about a greater col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween men­tal health workers and po­lice. She wel­comed the prospect of pair­ing po­lice with psy­chol­o­gists to try and cut down on the num­ber of peo­ple brought in on emer­gency de­ten­tions. These de­ten­tions were not only trau­matic for the per­son in cri­sis, they were ex­pen­sive and of­ten in­ef­fec­tive.

But by 2008, Hegerty had re­tired and the new chief, Ed Flynn, bris­tled at the no­tion that his of­fi­cers had to make up for the lack of ad­e­quate psy­chi­atric ser­vices.

Flynn later sent a team to Hous­ton to study that de­part­ment’s first-in-then­ation men­tal health di­vi­sion, cre­ated in 2013.

Hous­ton’s de­part­ment has five pro­grams aimed at help­ing peo­ple in psy­chi­atric cri­sis avoid ar­rest — in­clud­ing a

it,” home­less outreach team, a team ded­i­cated to iden­ti­fy­ing “chronic con­sumers” of po­lice time and a team of 10 of­fi­cers who are paired with men­tal health coun­selors to go out on calls for help.

When the Mil­wau­kee team re­quested that the de­part­ment put some of those same mea­sures in place, Flynn never took ac­tion.

Of­fi­cers re­sent ‘Hug-a-Thug’ pro­gram

Mean­while, some of­fi­cers took to call­ing the ex­ist­ing pro­gram “Hug-a-Thug” and griped that it was not their jobs to be “street psy­chi­a­trists,” Pasch said.

The grow­ing re­sent­ment be­gan to take a toll on the train­ing with fewer classes of­fered.

“A lot of the mo­men­tum was lost,” Pasch said.

In the days af­ter Hamil­ton was killed, Flynn tried to de­flect any crit­i­cism that po­lice need to be bet­ter pre­pared to deal with the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness who are not prop­erly treated.

“We can’t be all things to all peo­ple,” he said.

Not all of­fi­cers know or want to deal with some­one in a men­tal health cri­sis.

“Many of­fi­cers are not ready or in­ter­ested or do not have the dis­po­si­tion,” the board of the in­ter­na­tional CIT pro­gram warns in a po­si­tion pa­per posted in Jan­uary on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

“For these of­fi­cers, valu­able train­ing time and re­sources may not only be wasted on them if they are man­dated to sit through the 40-hour course, but their at­ti­tudes can dis­rupt the class,” the ex­perts warn. “Even worse, an agency may send an of­fi­cer who is not in­ter­ested or does not have the right dis­po­si­tion.”

Cochran and the other board mem­bers say they sup­port all of­fi­cers re­ceiv­ing train­ing in more gen­eral mat­ters, such as men­tal health aware­ness and de-es­ca­la­tion. They say men­tal health first-aid, which pro­vides train­ing on the signs and symp­toms of men­tal ill­ness and how to best ap­proach peo­ple in cri­sis, is a bet­ter choice for all of­fi­cers than CIT.

The cities that have stuck with the orig­i­nal model have seen suc­cess.

In Mem­phis, where CIT was founded, just 15% of the of­fi­cers are CIT-trained. Of­fi­cials there have re­ported a steady re­duc­tion in the num­ber of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness in­jured by po­lice. They’ve also seen a drop in ar­rests of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness.

Cochran and the other pro­gram lead­ers worry that politicians are us­ing the name of CIT to make it look like they are tak­ing the is­sue se­ri­ously with­out be­ing will­ing to do the long-term work that it takes to make the pro­gram suc­cess­ful.

“Ev­ery­body wants to feel com­fort­able that new train­ing is be­ing in­tro­duced with the ex­pec­ta­tion that we’re all go­ing to live hap­pily ever af­ter,” said Cochran. “It’s a quick fix — the other things that have to take place are a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing.”

So­ci­ol­o­gist warns the mayor

Amy Wat­son, a Univer­sity of Illi­nois so­ci­ol­o­gist, said she winced when she saw the news of Bar­rett’s pledge to train all Mil­wau­kee of­fi­cers. In early Jan­uary 2015, she dashed off an email to the mayor warn­ing him that he was go­ing about this all wrong.

Wat­son, who has stud­ied CIT for 20 years and serves as a mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion’s board, cau­tioned the mayor that his plan could be “dis­as­trous.”

That’s what hap­pened in Port­land, Ore. Many of­fi­cers there con­sid­ered a CIT as­sign­ment a bur­den, and of­fi­cers tapped for duty looked at their role as noth­ing more than trans­port­ing peo­ple in cri­sis to the hospi­tal, Wat­son said. Ten­sions be­tween re­sent­ful of­fi­cers and peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness flared. Nine peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness were killed in six years.

The 2006 death of James Chasse Jr., 42, was par­tic­u­larly grue­some.

Chasse, who suf­fered from delu­sions, was beaten by of­fi­cers, sus­tain­ing over 20 bro­ken bones, a punc­tured lung and a torn spleen. Af­ter po­lice ini­tially de­nied him med­i­cal at­ten­tion, he was put in the back of a po­lice cruiser where he died on the way to the hospi­tal.

“In a good faith ef­fort to address this, they de­cided to train all of their of­fi­cers,” Wat­son wrote to Bar­rett. “It did not go well.”

In the fol­low­ing four years, the Port­land Po­lice Bureau used deadly force against peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness 14 more times.

In one in­stance, of­fi­cers re­peat­edly tased a naked man in his own apart­ment for not com­ply­ing with com­mands and re­port­edly run­ning at the of­fi­cers. It turned out he was not at­tack­ing them — nor was he men­tally ill. He was in di­a­betic shock, and com­ing to the of­fi­cers for help.

Port­land’s ris­ing death toll caught the at­ten­tion of the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s De­part­ment of Jus­tice, and in July 2011 the agency opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Port­land po­lice.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded later that year that the de­ci­sion to give all new of­fi­cers CIT train­ing had back­fired. Rather than build­ing em­pa­thy to­wards those with men­tal ill­nesses, it seemed to fos­ter a cul­ture of wide­spread an­i­mos­ity and re­sent­ment through­out the de­part­ment.

Po­lice reg­u­larly re­ferred to peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness as “men­tals” in of­fi­cial meet­ings. One of­fi­cer told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that his job was “to put peo­ple in jail, not to pro­vide so­cial ser­vices.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to a 2012 set­tle­ment be­tween the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and the city of Port­land. Re­forms man­dated by the agree­ment were wide rang­ing: stricter poli­cies on when to use force and bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion with men­tal health or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant rec­om­men­da­tion was that the de­part­ment go back to a “Mem­phis Model” CIT pro­gram.

Even­tu­ally, Port­land dropped plans to train all of­fi­cers.

In her 2015 email, Wat­son told Bar­rett she agreed with him that all of­fi­cers need some men­tal health train­ing.

But the force should keep its 10-year com­mit­ment to the clas­sic CIT model, she wrote. There still needs to be a spe­cialty unit that other of­fi­cers and dis­patch­ers know to call when these kinds of crises arise.

Bar­rett never replied. Train­ing for all of­fi­cers started the next month.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, Bar­rett said he does not re­mem­ber Wat­son’s email. He says he un­der­stands why re­searchers and pol­icy makers might not think train­ing all of­fi­cers was the right thing to do — or the most fis­cally sound.

But when Don­tre Hamil­ton’s mother, Maria Hamil­ton, asked for the train­ing, Bar­rett said he felt he could not say no.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for me to say to the mother of a young man who’s been killed, ‘Well, we’re not go­ing to train all of our of­fi­cers,’” Bar­rett said.

Ef­fort to fend off law­suits

Le­gal ex­perts say more cities are mov­ing to train all of­fi­cers in CIT to fend off law­suits.

The most com­mon ar­gu­ment in such cases is fail­ure to train, said John Rap­pa­port, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School and an ex­pert on how li­a­bil­ity con­cerns drive po­lice re­form.

Cochran, the pro­gram founder, agrees.

“If you don’t have a train­ing pro­gram in place, trust me, that’s the first thing the lawyers look at,” Cochran said. “Does it meet some kind of na­tional trend or na­tional standard?”

Cities and coun­ties use CIT to push back and say they did their part, he said.

So­cial me­dia clips of ar­rests that go awry add to the pres­sure for train­ing.

Mil­wau­kee of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the vi­o­lent ar­rest last month of a man with men­tal ill­ness that landed him and four of­fi­cers in the hospi­tal. Po­lice re­peat­edly kicked the man in the head as he fought ar­rest. A video of the con­fronta­tion went vi­ral within hours.

Adam Tram­mell, 22, of neigh­bor­ing West Mil­wau­kee, died last year af­ter be­ing tased as many as 18 times by po­lice af­ter they beat down his apart­ment door and found him in his shower drink­ing a jug of wa­ter.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to say pre­cisely how many peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness are shot and killed by po­lice each year. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not track fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings of any kind. The Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics launched plans to de­velop such a database but

sus­pended the project in­def­i­nitely last fall.

Sev­eral pri­vately-compiled data­bases put the num­ber of peo­ple killed by po­lice na­tion­wide at roughly 1,000 each year. Men­tal health ad­vo­cates es­ti­mate that as many as half of those killed had se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness.

Trainer sees of­fi­cers sleep­ing, play­ing on phones

Neubauer, the long­time Mil­wau­kee trainer, said she could see the dif­fer­ence in of­fi­cer at­ti­tudes from the day the course was made manda­tory.

In­stead of pay­ing at­ten­tion, some of­fi­cers were sleep­ing. Oth­ers passed the time play­ing games on their phones. A few told her they didn’t want to be there, she said.

“The qual­ity of the train­ing went right out the win­dow,” Neubauer said. Pasch fared no bet­ter.

For the first time in 10 years of train­ing, she felt hos­til­ity from of­fi­cers, some who she said acted as if they were be­ing pun­ished.

Af­ter Pasch protested that the of­fi­cers should not be forced to take the train­ing, the of­fi­cer in charge of the pro­gram told her not to come back.

She went home that night and told her hus­band, “I just got fired from my vol­un­teer job.”

Brenda Wes­ley, then di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and outreach for the Mil­wau­kee chap­ter of the Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness, got so up­set with the dis­re­spect she felt from some of­fi­cers that she quit. Ul­ti­mately, the men­tal health ad­vo­cacy group vol­un­teers were elim­i­nated from the train­ing al­to­gether. The CIT pro­gram is now han­dled in­ter­nally by po­lice.

Key po­lice per­son­nel leave pro­gram

Four years af­ter Don­tre Hamil­ton’s death, key po­lice per­son­nel who had spent years work­ing with Mil­wau­kee’s men­tal health com­mu­nity are gone.

Liam Looney, who co­or­di­nated the pro­gram, is no longer a part of it. Nei­ther is Chad Stiles, the of­fi­cer who helped de­velop the de­part­ment pro­gram that pairs po­lice with psy­chol­o­gists. Lt. Cas­san­dra Libal, who now co­or­di­nates the de­part­ment’s men­tal health train­ing, would not com­ment on why they were trans­ferred; Looney and Stiles could not be reached for com­ment.

Car­i­anne Yerkes, the as­sis­tant chief who over­saw the de­part­ment’s men­tal health pro­grams, re­tired in July. She de­clined a re­quest for com­ment.

Other mea­sures promised to ease ten­sion be­tween po­lice and peo­ple in cri­sis have yet to be ful­filled. The de­part­ment scut­tled plans to ex­pand a pro­gram to add more po­lice/psy­chol­o­gist teams. A pi­lot pro­gram that would have al­lowed trained so­cial workers to bring peo­ple to the hospi­tal on an emer­gency de­ten­tion has been side­lined.

“All those years of build­ing re­la­tion­ships, gone,” Wes­ley said.

Libal, the Mil­wau­kee lieu­tenant, says she con­sid­ers the train­ing a suc­cess.

“No one’s ever been hurt from knowl­edge,” she said.

The old CIT model could be re­stored in time, Libal said. The de­part­ment plans to of­fer ad­vanced train­ing for in­ter­ested of­fi­cers in the fall. But no funds have been earmarked nor have classes been sched­uled.

The Hamil­ton fam­ily sued the city for wrong­ful death and set­tled in May 2017 for $2.3 mil­lion.

It is un­clear why spe­cially-trained of­fi­cers were not sent to deal with Don­tre Hamil­ton af­ter the 911 calls on that April day in Red Ar­row Park. Man­ney was fired from the force for not fol­low­ing pro­to­col for con­duct­ing a pat-down search and for not prop­erly deal­ing with a per­son who may be men­tally dis­turbed.

Nate Hamil­ton is not so op­ti­mistic that things have im­proved since his brother’s death.

“We asked for this train­ing be­cause we thought it would help make wiser, safer cops, but noth­ing changed,” he said. “We don’t have any less ag­gres­sive of­fi­cers than the day Don­tre was killed.”

Hamil­ton also said he would like to work with men­tal health groups to re­build the re­la­tion­ships with the po­lice that have been lost since the train­ing be­gan.

Martina Gollin-Graves, pres­i­dent of Men­tal Health Amer­ica, said she would be ea­ger to help with that.

“It’s a shame how the years of build­ing trust have been thwarted by this,” she said. “We are stand­ing here with our hands reach­ing out.”


Maria Hamil­ton, mother of Don­tre Hamil­ton, wipes a tear away af­ter her son, Nate Hamil­ton (left), fam­ily and sup­port­ers of Don­tre Hamil­ton spoke out­side the fed­eral court­house on E. Wis­con­sin Ave. about the de­ci­sion not to charge Mil­wau­kee po­lice of­fi­cer Christo­pher Man­ney in the fa­tal shoot­ing of Don­tre Hamil­ton at Red Ar­row Park in April of 2014.

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