More than 600 Edmonton Police Service members have improved interaction with the mentally ill, according to preliminary results of a unique training program.
Dr. Peter Silverstone, of the University of Alberta’s department of psychiatry, delivered the news to the Edmonton Police Commission at a meeting Thursday evening.
“The data we have to date is very exciting,” he said. “It looks like we have designed a program which will help police officers interact in a more empathetic way with individuals with mental problems.”
Last May and June, over a span of 19 days, a total of 663 frontline patrol constables, sergeants and staff sergeants participated in one day of training each.
The training, which focused on real life scenarios such as depression, alcohol withdrawal, schizophrenia, suicidal individuals, mania, domestic disputes and gambling addictions, were conducted with professional actors.
“It’s important because there has been a number of tragedies in which individuals with mental illness have had sometimes traumatic, and sometimes even fatal, interactions with police,” said Silverstone. “And I think it’s a lack of, often, understanding of how these conditions sometimes lead to the tragic outcomes.”
Success was monitored by senior offers between July and December, and Silverstone said results show that there was a significant change in behaviour.
“We had hoped there would also be a change in attitude,” he said. “However, it was a real positive … gratification that six months after a single day’s training, that it still changed behaviour in a very measurable way, in a series of measurable ways.”
Changes were observed regarding calls taken, time spent, communication and use of force.
Silverstone also noted that the ways individuals were reacted to and dealt with resulted in cost efficiencies – likely to the tune of more than $80,000 in the six-month period.
Silverstone hopes to offer the program to more officers within a year. He also thinks it would be of benefit to other forces across the country, which Edmonton Police Commission chair Arlene Yakeley and EPS deputy chief Danielle Campbell agreed with.