Breaking the Silence: With crisis training, officers can address deeper problems on calls

Officers from Grants Pass Department of Public Safety sit in a Crisis Intervention Training in late March. Officers from across the agency have trainings regularly in order to be fully aware of mental health crises that somebody may be suffering from when police respond to a call. (News 10/Mike Marut)

Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and Options for Southern Oregon have been working together for a few years.

"We've looked at some of the situations and how can we be the least intrusive and get them the help they need," Shelly Urig, Chief Operations Officer at Options for Southern Oregon, said.

Police officers train regularly with Options on a variety of mental health related topics, almost weekly.

"We bring in a variety of experts and people with lived experiences to talk about what it's like living with mental health issues and what officers need to know on the streets," Urig said.

"We're starting to learn more about the issues that are creating the problems and by having a more proactive approach we can help get people treatment and maybe stop further problems from occurring," Sgt. Josh Nieminen said.

Since starting the training, officers have noticed a difference in their approaches to emergency calls.

"Treating everybody the same way doesn't work," Niemenin said. "We need to have a better understanding of the needs of different people and help get them through whatever issue they have."

Options says it's important for law enforcement officers to have mental health in the back of their mind whenever they respond.

"This is really just turning things around and training each other in ways that we haven't historically been trained in our professions and learning that we are partners in helping people," Karla McCafferty, Executive Director at Options, said.

"It has helped me recognize some past calls - nothing too extravagant, it's usually pretty obvious in a big call - but it's helped me realize there are some things in the past that we could do better," Niemenin said.

Since the beginning of their partnership, McCafferty says she has noticed a general increase in the number of calls Options receives. She says it may actually be a good thing.

"We're literally sitting down - the police, the mental health staff, this person, the courts - together and talking with this person and [asking], "How can we get you the help you need? What do you need? What are you struggling with?'" McCafferty said.

McCafferty says she has not noticed a difference in the number of suicide calls specifically, just the general number of calls for assistance in a mental health capacity.

Grants Pass Police have not really noticed too much of a difference, but are now more equipped than ever to help those in crisis.

"This is only going to improve the way law enforcement conducts business here and we're going to keep pushing forward," Niemenin said.

"The constant and daily interface we have now develops that daily trust that helps support these programs that we're doing," McCafferty said.

This story is part of a statewide effort to bring awareness to mental health and suicide called Breaking the Silence. Read and watch Part 1: Law Enforcement Tactics here.

The Jackson County's mental health crisis line at 541-774-8201 is available 24 hours per day.

The Josephine County 24-hour mental health crisis hotline at 541-474-5360 is available for anybody seven days per week.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Or text 741741 to talk to a crisis counselor.

If a suicide seems imminent, another person is in danger or if suicide has been attempted, call 911.

EDITORS NOTE: News 10 and the Mail Tribune join newsrooms statewide in addressing the suicide crisis this week in the hope of saving lives. This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Mail Tribune published a three-part series earlier this week: Part 1 is called "Talk About It," Part 2 is called "Give Them Hope," and Part 3 is called "A Survivor's Story."

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