An inside look at how RPD trains officers responding to mental health crises

Posted at 11:26 PM, Sep 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-14 23:27:24-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department is taking its officers through critical mental health crisis training that could potentially save someone's life.

The training is called crisis intervention training and it is led by Kelly Ferguson in collaboration with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.

They hold 40-hour training sessions four to six times a year in order to educate first responders on what to do if they encounter someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

“I think it is great. It is such a basic fundamental being able to engage with someone who is in a mental health crisis to develop skills,” Ferguson said.

Right now the city of Richmond has a limited number of Community Response Teams, which is a program that pairs law enforcement officers with mental health professionals to respond to crises.

Of the 500 calls the Community Response team has responded to, the organization said 91% of them resulted in a positive outcome that didn’t involve hospitalization, jail, or harm.

“If it works in those limited hours we need to expand it to 7 days a week and 365 days a year and not just on a limited basis,” Ferguson shared.

However, he said because of a lack of state funding, the majority of the time law enforcement has to respond to mental health situations on their own. Ferguson said that’s why equipping them with this crisis intervention training is critical.

During the training, everyone is required to participate in different scenarios.

By the end, they must be able to demonstrate they can recognize someone's emotional state.

They must show they can build rapport by reflecting back on what the person told them, all while demonstrating they can collect facts to connect the person in crisis to resources to help resolve the problem.

“Sometimes that is all someone needs is to be empathetic and understanding and be available to them,” Ferguson said.

He believes they are going in the right direction and that working as a team can hopefully bring more crisis situations to safe resolutions.

Richmond Behavioral Health is also actively looking for people interested in working hand and hand with law enforcement to be part of these community response teams.

If a loved one is experiencing a crisis you can dial 911 and ask for the community response team.

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