Milwaukee to speed police training in handling mentally ill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2014 9:50 PM
Milwaukee to speed police training in handling mentally ill

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Police Department is stepping up training so that all police officers on the force would be fully trained to deal with the mentally ill by 2018, the mayor announced Thursday, months after a Milwaukee police officer killed a schizophrenic man at a park.

"I have heard the concerns of the community and we have listened to those concerns and want to respond to those concerns," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Joining Barrett were family members of Dontre Hamilton, who was shot 14 times April 30 by Christopher Manney after the officer responded to a call for a welfare check on a man sleeping in the park near a downtown coffee shop.

About 400 Milwaukee officers and dispatchers have received the 40 hours of training since 2006 to be certified under the Crisis Intervention Team program, a highly respected approach for policing. The plan is for another 1,000 or so members with the rank of police officer to get training by 2017, starting this spring. The 400 or so others in higher ranks will be trained by the end of 2018, according to Lt. Mark Stanmeyer.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is providing a $500,000 grant toward the $1.2 million cost. Barrett said he was confident others would step up and donate the rest.

For months, Hamilton's family and others have peacefully protested his death and demanded that District Attorney John Chisholm charge Manney. Hamilton's death was the first in Wisconsin to be investigated under a new law that requires an outside agency to lead the criminal review of any officer-involved death. In an email Thursday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said no decision has been made yet. Lovern has previously said they are waiting for additional information from use of force experts.

According to Manney's account, Hamilton resisted a pat-down, leading to a struggle in which Hamilton grabbed the officer's baton and hit him in the neck. Manney then shot Hamilton 14 times. Hamilton's family said he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but was not violent, and questioned the police version of events.

In October, Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney, saying the pat-down attempt violated proper procedure for dealing with a person who appeared to be suffering from mental illness.

Barrett credited Hamilton's brother, Nate Hamilton, with helping move the accelerated training effort forward. The brother noted that people have to be trained for eight years to become a doctor to save lives but police officers only get five months.

"(Police officers) are able to decide whether we live or die sometimes and we want them to use discretion, we want them to use an educated approach when dealing with these issues," Nate Hamilton said.

The 40 hours of training includes identifying mental illness, active listening and de-escalation among other things, Barrett said.

The department also is expanding the crisis assessment response team, where a police officer is paired with a behavior health clinician to respond to mental health crisis calls, said Inspector Carianne Yerkes. Currently, there is one pair. Another will be added.

All newly hired police officers will also receive the same training before they leave the academy, Barrett said. In January, all sworn officers will also receive 16 hours of crisis management first responder training as part of their in-service training.