How are officers trained to deal with mental health calls?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Body-worn cameras on the Rochester Police officers involved in the Daniel Prude case give us all a look at how the encounter unfolded. As the mayor, union, attorneys and community members analyze the actions of the officers, so do those who train law enforcers on how to handle calls for mental health emergencies.

Fifteen years ago, Eric Weaver ran a specialized team of Rochester Police officers who were trained specifically to respond to mental health calls.

“Even with the civil unrest and things that are happening, I would give anything to go back on the job again," Weaver tells News10NBC. "Many officers have been retired and don’t wanna know nothing about nothing, but in situations like these, I really kinda wish I was the commanding officer again, and I could help again."

Weaver now travels the country as the owner of Overcoming the Darkness, training officers chosen for Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). He says his mission statement is simple.

"Every individual that every CIT member encounters should be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect," he said.

Most of those who watch the video of Prude’s encounter with RPD wonder why Prude was left naked on the ground, in the cold after officers had restrained him.

"There’s always options," Weaver said. "We don’t carry blankets in the cars. We didn’t, but there’s always your car or an ambulance."

Prude’s encounter with police happened at the beginning of the pandemic, and Prude told the officers he had COVID-19. He also had blood on his arms and can be heard on the video saying he had feces on his hands. Still, Weaver says, compassion is key.

"After a while, empathy starts to be eroded," he said. "Everybody kind of starts to look the same and that’s why specialized training is needed, that’s why certain specific officers need to be selected for teams such as this."

The Rochester Police Department still has a Crisis Intervention Team, although it won’t say how many officers are on it and whether any of them were there the night of the encounter with Prude.

"The national standard for CIT is pretty much 20% … so, to have 20% of your department trained in CIT," Weaver said. "The problem with that is because it’s a 40-hour school, to get everyone through a 40-hour school would be very, very difficult."

Earlier this week, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said that the city’s Department of Youth and Recreation Services would take over the funding and supervision of the Family Crisis Intervention Team, a group of civilian employees that worked under the direction of the police department.

Monroe County says it is expanding the services of its six-member Forensic Intervention Team (FIT), which partners with clinicians and the county’s eleven law enforcement agencies to assist individuals with mental health needs and who have frequent contact with law enforcement.

So far this year, there have been roughly 7,000 mental health transports in Monroe County.