Bosque Farms Police Department holds crisis intervention training

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Because of an increased number of calls involving people in crisis, Bosque Farms Police Chief Greg Jones has decided to train his entire department to help better handle these types of calls.

Last week, Bosque Farms Lt. David Gallegos and Sgt. Dawne Roberto instructed the 40-hour training course, which is not only being offered to BFPD officers, but to other law enforcement agencies around the state. “The 40-hour course is being taught by our in-house instructors, who are certified by the law enforcement academy to teach this specialty,” said Jones.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Bosque Farms Police Lt. David Gallegos speaks to a class of officers who are becoming certified in crisis intervention. The training was offered free of charge by the Bosque Farms Police Department to all law enforcement agencies statewide. Officers with the Santa Fe Police Department and the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus Police Department were in attendance last week along with one-half the personnel of the Bosque Farms Police Department. The 40-hour class will be held again next week for the other half of the BFPD as well as members of New Mexico State Police and other agencies.

With half of the BFPD receiving the training last week, the other half will get the same training next week.

Sgt. Roberto said that over the past several decades, officers have primarily received command and control training, meaning giving voice commands to have people comply with their instructions.

“Although this approach works most of the time … we’ve learned across the country that it’s not as affective with people in crisis or those with mental illness who might be off their medications,” Roberto said.

She said the training teaches officers verbal de-escalation skills that can help calm a person and hopefully resolve the call without the need for hands-on techniques.

Gallegos said the Bosque Farms police do respond to calls on a regular basis of people who are in crisis, such as people seeing things that aren’t there, people who are delusional, ranging in age from children to the elderly.

“These people are in crisis, maybe going through a very stressful time in their lives, such as divorce or a break up or something. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they act out,” Gallegos said. “We receive calls from businesses and family members for officers to help.”

Gallegos, a veteran law enforcement officer, said these types of calls 30 years ago were pretty infrequent. But for many reasons, officers respond to about two to three calls per week.

“Everyone agrees that over the past 10 years, it’s constantly on the rise and it’s a phenomenon that every jurisdiction is dealing with now,” Gallegos said. “I don’t know that everyone really knows why, but experts come up with different explanations from drug abuse to mental illness.”

Echoing Roberto’s statements, Gallegos said the traditional command and control technique works mostly on the average citizen, but it’s not very effective with people who are in crisis or people dealing with mental illness.

“Over the decades, there has not been a lot of training for police officers to fully de-escalate someone, and it’s kind of counter intuitive to our command and control training,” Gallegos said. “The experts train us that when dealing with people in crisis or the mentally ill, the slower, softer de-escalation approach actually creates more power and control over that special population.”

He also said officers are learning the different approach, and when it’s safe to do so, to use these verbal de-escalation techniques.

Along with receiving the training, the Bosque Farms Police Department has teamed up with the Albuquerque-based non-profit, Crisis Intervention Team Inc.’s Helping Hand Project, which is designed to keep people living with mental illness and/or homelessness out of jail.

Gallegos said CIT Inc. is providing the department with a pre-paid credit card to assist people in crisis or the mentally ill with emergency services, such a place to stay for the night, a meal, a pair of shoes or a jacket during the winter time.

“As we spend the money, we report back to them what we spent it on and they replenish the credit card,” Gallegos explained. “I believe they’re giving us $300.”

The lieutenant says officers regularly comes across people who are need, who, for some reason, are forced to leave their home without enough clothing.

“We’ve come across people ranging from a young man sitting naked on top of a carport in January to a transient just walking through town not sure where they are,” he said. “We just come across a lot of folks who are in needs, so this credit card will come in handy to help them.”


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.