Are local police trained to deal with mental health crises?

Posted at 12:30 PM, Nov 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-17 16:37:47-05

"As soon as we realized Jeremy was gone, and the minivan were gone, we put two and two together and Amy called the police."
On that 911 call, made October 10, 2010, Amy Hutton told dispatchers, “I have a 17 year old son with down syndrome, has severe behavior problems. He apparently stole a car key off my husband's desk and took out my White 98 minivan.”
The Huttons say they called police because, “We just wanted him to be safe,” says Gary Hutton.
5 miles from home, Palm Beach County Sheriff Deputies spotted Jeremy Hutton, the young man with down syndrome, who had never driven before, driving 10 MPH, with flat tires. 
“I'm sure they had their sirens blaring and their lights flashing, which probably freaked him out,” said Gary Hutton.

After a slow speed chase, caught on dash cam video, deputies catch up to Jeremy at an intersection. "He (the deputy) pulls up and the officer steps out of his truck. I'm sure Jeremy is thinking uh oh, I'm in trouble, I better get out of here," said Gary Hutton. "I imagined that panicked him more than anything."
"A child who is with intellectual disabilities, just does not understand,” echoes Amy Hutton.

Deputy Jason Franqui shot him. 

The deputy claimed Hutton tried to run him over, but traffic video shows just the opposite, Hutton driving away from the 3 deputies who stopped him. 
“I didn't envision in any way in my mind that there was any end to that situation that would end up with him being shot,” said Gary Hutton. Jeremy was shot 3 times, one bullet landed in his head.
“They didn't understand at all. I don't think they had much training in disabilities,” said Amy Hutton.

The deputies didn't. A Contact 5 investigation found all 3 deputies involved had never been trained to handle people with development disabilities. It’s part, of a course crisis intervention training.

“They're dealing with assessment, resolution, mental health issues. They're dealing with substance abuse, children at risk, those types of situations. The buzzword that's out there nowadays is de-escalation,” says Lee Spector, who oversees an in-depth form of Crisis Intervention Training at Indian River State College, that touches on more subjects than the more popular model. The average officer will be trained in the Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention (Team) Training.

"Mental health situations are not simple situations for a law enforcement officer to deal with," said Spector. "The most important aspect is first identifying what issues it is they are dealing with, trying to figure out if there's any immediate remedies. Most of the situations will initially involve in de-escalation type techniques. Always trying to get people to talk, communicate, relate to the officers. That's a huge issue especially nowadays."

Since 2002, there’s been at least 35 officer involved shootings with the mentally ill and disabled in our 5 county area. 26 were deadly. In every fatal shooting, we found not one of the officers went through CIT.

“You need to have this type of training on file,” West Palm Beach Police Officer Sanjay Raja tells us. West Palm Police tell Contact 5, they respond to about 4 mental health calls a day. 

“The way the training taught me, is to basically slow things down, and try to get an understanding, or engage the person in a dialogue,” said Raja.

Raja was once CIT officer of the year. He was honored for talking down an armed, suicidal woman barricaded inside her home. 
"You have to exhaust all your means before you do tactical. We were able to open the window and finally I was able to get the face to face. With the face to face, the subject realized that I wasn't the typical, what I believed was not the typical officer. Even though they were very derogative, they saw that I still cared," explained Raja. 

Raja and his Sergeant, Terry Golden, make sure all officers in the department are trained in CIT. “We have better outcomes in dealing with mentally ill or people in crisis, either armed or not armed.”

Florida doesn’t require officers to train for mental health situations, beyond the training academy. All recruits on the Treasure Coast go through 40 hours of something called "Interactions in a Diverse Society."

Lee Spector says "they will be trained on how to deal with people that have different types of physical and mental disabilities."

But it’s left up to each agency whether an officer is ever trained in mental health again. 
Some area law enforcement don’t do a single hour. Only a handful say CIT is mandatory for all officers. Others agencies range from one hour to 16 hours of training in mental health issues. We show you the breakdown below. 

There are more than 450 deputies at PBSO (the largest agency in our area without CIT)  many of them are the ones involved in the fatal shootings.
“Every police officer should be CIT trained and it should be repeated every 2 years throughout their careers,” says Pam Gionfriddo, President of the Palm Beach County Mental Alliance. She also recommends asking for a CIT trained officer when calling 911 in a mental health crisis, a "little known secret." Although, she realizes CIT officers won't always be available, because not everyone is trained.

"I know that police officers do not want to kill people, they really don't. But they are reacting to the training they've gotten probably more frequently than the behavioral health training. They're trained to defend themselves. I'm just suggesting that if they got the same amount of crisis intervention training as they do defend their-self training, then they might have a different reaction," says Gionfriddo. 

CIT Training always improves officer safety. According to the National Alliance for Mental Health, "After the introduction of CIT in Memphis, Tenn, officer injuries sustained during responses to “mental disturbance” calls dropped 80%." 

Lee Spector says the goal is to get everyone home safe: "Is it teaching them maybe, when that 911 call comes in, that someone's mentally ill is threatening them self, or someone, to not just run in there."


The Florida Standards and Training Commission could require all police agencies to have their officers complete CIT training.

We went to Sarasota to ask them why they don’t. They were for their annual meetings, where they approve mandatory and optional curriculum for law enforcement in the state.
“Because it comes down to money,” says Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummel, a member of the Commission. CIT training is mandatory at his department. “There's a lot of things that are pushed down from the state, from the federal government and a lot of it's unfunded mandates.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, CIT also saves public money. Pre-booking jail diversion programs, including CIT, reduce the number of re-arrests of people with mental illness by a staggering 58%.

Prummel says, currently the Florida Sheriff's Association works to secure grants to help departments, who otherwise wouldn't have the money, train in CIT, but it's not enough. 

Prummel told Contact 5 he will bring up the idea of making CIT mandatory the next time the Commission meets to approve courses. 


Jeremy survived. But 7 years later, the deputies who shot Jeremy Hutton still haven’t been trained.
“We have other disabled children as well. The next time, it could be one of them. We'd like to know the people who are supposed to be protecting us, actually are protecting us because they know how to do it," said Gary Hutton. 

In Palm Beach County, the largest county in our area, There are 296,000 with disabilities, like Jeremy.  25% of adults suffer from mental illness, 20% of children.  

Minnesota has taken action to protect both officers, and the people they are supposed to help. In June, a new law passed in the Minnesota legislature, and was signed by the Governor. It said, in part, that "law enforcement will now be mandated to take a minimum amount of crisis prevention training.

The training will require law enforcement have a minimum of 16 hours of training every three years on three areas: responding to a mental health crisis, de-escalation of conflicts and diversity and implicit bias training. It will be part of the training to get re-certified as an officer in Minnesota. The state will give law enforcement $6 million every year for the next four yours to do the training.

"It's not a silver bullet, but it's a step in the right direction," Nate Gove tells Contact 5. Gove is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, the group we will administer the money for training and make sure agencies are following the law. 

If you want to contact your local lawmaker about the lack of CIT training, we've made it easy for you. Click on this link for the Florida Senate. Click here for Florida Representatives. In June, they passed a law that required officers be trained in Autism Awareness, but did not fund it.