IMPD trains officers on working with mentally ill suspects, citizens

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The wave of violence across Indianapolis claimed more victims over the weekend with people wounded from shootings.

The causes of crime are complex. Many experts blame poverty and drugs, but mental illness also plays a part.

New and veteran street cops sat in a classroom Monday to watch scenes from the movie, "A Beautiful Mind," and saw the ugly side of mental illness they confront every day.

Michael Phillips was one of them. The patrol officer has 15 years with IMPD.

"Some days it feels like you are talking to every single person in the county that has a mental illness," he said.

It is difficult to calculate the amount of crime attributable to mental illness, but the Marion County Sheriff's department says 40 percent of jail inmates are classified as mentally ill. Every day, the jail staff distributes 700 prescriptions to treat a variety of mentally illnesses.

Five hundred inmates are held on bonds of $500 or less. Jail administrators claim some relatives won't post bail because they don't want trouble at home or can't pay for their loved one's medications.

Who are the mentally ill? Major James Cleek, IMPD's training bureau commander, had a concerning answer.

"We don't know who they are. They could be on any run," he said.

That's why IMPD makes crisis intervention training a priority for street officers. If they can't quickly see the symptoms of someone suffering from extreme mental illness "and how to de-escalate and communicate with someone who has a different reality than we do, they we have a problem and that is not what we want here in Indianapolis," explained Major Cleek.

There are problems for the individual, the police officer and the people around them. Phillips said he's faced angry persons, some of them living in homeless camps or arguing with spouses while armed with knives and screwdrivers, or worse.

"It doesn't make them a bad person," he said. "In their minds, they believe that are doing the right thing. They don't think they've done anything wrong."

Crisis intervention training has more than one purpose. There is the safety of the officers and individuals, but it is also about getting the mentally ill the help and services they need and prevent later, more serious problems.

IMPD says it is one of the few local police departments in the country offering this training.