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Bucks police train to aid those in crisis


Law enforcement officers from across Bucks County recently took part in a training program designed to support them when they’re interacting with people struggling with mental health episodes.

Hosted by the Doylestown-based Lenape Valley Foundation, dozens of police listened to Sharon Curran, LVF’s chief executive officer, provide an in-depth presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder.

With as many as 7 percent to 8 percent of the population believed to have the medical condition, Curran said, it’s important that police know what to look for and how to respond to someone with PTSD. Someone with the disorder, Curran explained, could be taken back to what caused his or her trauma and be unable to appropriately interact with officers. Others may “disassociate” from the situation and not respond to questions, or know where they are.

In those circumstances, recognizing signs of PTSD can help police. Curran said, “you’re looking for red flags. Slow everything down, reduce stimuli, use a calm voice and don’t touch the person before telling them you’re going to…focus on all five senses.”

During another part of the training, held at the Bucks County Public Safety Training Center in Doylestown Township, officers experienced police calls through a virtual reality program, said Nicole Wolf, Lenape Valley’s director of education and training.

“Every scenario is created from a real police call,” Wolf said. During each one, officers can chose how they’ll react and see the outcome. They also have an opportunity to take a different course of action and see what that result will be.

Charles J. Pinkerton, a lieutenant with the Northampton Police Department, is a co-chair of the crisis team task force.

“The county saw the need for this type of training,” he said, and began a task force in 2008. It’s also important that officers have support to cope with their own stress, Pinkerton noted. Police departments offer several programs for officers, including peer support training.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model was first created in Memphis about 20 years ago to improve outcomes of police interactions with people with mental illness, substance abuse and other disorders and also provide training in deescalating crisis situations.

“The overall goal of CIT training program is to treat mental illness as a disease, not a crime,” the Bucks County team’s website states.