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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Committee on Public Safety Motion for Administration to Consider Training SPD Through National Empowerment Center

The Committee on Public Health and Public Safety made a motion during last night’s meeting for the administration to consider training all police officers on proper ways to assist people with mental illness. This training would be conducted by the National Empowerment Center and would be derived from their Emotional CPR program.

Currently, due to lack of funding, Police Officers are not mandated through the State to complete outside mental illness awareness training on top of the basic 8 hours that are needed to graduate from the police academy. Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz would like to see this changed especially in the wake of a mentally ill Sycamore Terrace woman being fatally shot after stabbing three officers last year.

The training, 16 hours total, would consist of role playing and would feature a certification test at the completion. A total cost of $65,000 would certify all 100+ Somerville Police Officers, but would not cover recertification. The Somerville Police Department would be the first law enforcement personnel to be certified in the National Empowerment Center’s Emotional CPR as mental health workers and crisis teams have been the only ones to take advantage of this program.

The program trains people to properly identify someone with mental illness, offer support, and gain trust in an effort to assist the person through their emotional distress. Noting how frightened mentally ill people can be when confronted by a police officer, National Empowerment Center representatives stressed that it's not necessary to diagnose a person when an officer comes upon a situation, but to gain trust and refer the person appropriately. Officers would learn language and body composure through the Emotional CPR program that would assist them before and after situations involving mentally ill citizens.

There is a possibility that 25 officers could be trained in Emotional CPR through a small grant that would fund a “pilot” administering of the program. The grant would cover $5,000 leaving an $8,000 tab for the city. The thought of including other organizations to cover part of the cost was also discussed. This training would be considered for next year’s budget.

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