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How are police officers trained to deal with mental health situations?

Posted at 11:46 PM, Jul 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-29 23:47:04-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Earlier this week, Richmond police fatally shot an ax-wielding man after he charged at police in downtown Richmond.

Police said 23-year-old Alexander Schoessel did not surrender his weapons and charged at them after a Taser was used on him.

Police say that's when two officers fired at him. Schoessel died at the hospital.

Alexander Schoessel

Multiple people reported that Schoessel looked angry, and was talking to himself.

After his death, Victoria Schossel, Alexander's sister, said her brother fought battles, from mental illness to drugs.

This led CBS 6 Problem Solvers to investigate how law enforcement deals with mental illness situations like the one on the morning of Tuesday, July 25.

The responding officers were trained in Crisis Intervention.

"We shoot to disable the person and fortunately the disablement is to shoot for the center of mass. The greater target that you have. And by all indications that's what these city guys did,” said Retired Henrico Sheriff's Office Captain Earl Williams.

Alexander Schoessel

Williams teaches that training for county police officers, firefighters, and first responders aimed at handling people with mental illness.

It starts with evaluating the situation to make sure it's safe for them and the public.

"And then, try to make contact with them. Try to set up a dialogue and try to find what their problem is,” said Williams.

Williams says law enforcement and first responders go through 40 hours of classroom instruction and role playing scenarios.

They learn what it's like to live with mental illness and the challenges a person faces.

Earl Williams

"If they have a mental health problem, we try to get them the treatment they need. If it's a criminal issue, of course, we have to deal with the criminal issue,” said Williams.

If Schoessel was mentally ill, he would be part of a growing trend of people with mental illnesses who had a troubled past.

But Williams believes Crisis Intervention training is a way to control the situation and not throw the person behind bars.

"We go way out of our way to help police. That's the way we do things. Do what we can to help people. We're not here to hurt anybody,” said Williams.

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