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Texas Police Officers Learn Mental Health Crisis Intervention

David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio
A mental health crisis intervention team trains with a woman acting out signs of dementia

This story was updated at 9:50 a.m.

First responders across Texas are learning how to better deal with those with mental illness. They are attending a weeklong course in crisis intervention training hosted by the San Antonio Police Department’s mental health unit. 

On Tuesday at the First Church of the Nazarene, roughly 75 law enforcement officers are going through training in real world conditions.

"This is my room," said Mary, a college student wearing a Texas A&M T-shirt as she jumps on a row of chairs.

This is actually a classroom and "Mary" is an actress, played by 17 year-old Vianney Wallace.

“This is where the fountain is going to go,” she said while pointing to a box of corn chips in the middle of the room.

The scene is a young woman having a manic episode and is rearranging the furniture in her apartment to build a fountain for coffee.

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Actress Vianney Wallace demonstrates a mental health crisis by running through the classroom and frustrates the police officer being trained

“Usually, they just give you a general overview of your character and what they’re trying to do and if they’re like a manic or if they’re depressive or something like that but then it’s really like your character and you get to run with it where ever you want to go,” she said.

In the scene, the roommate is concerned about a situation with Mary and her boyfriend and has called the police. An officer in training has been instructed to calm the young woman down but she's not listening. She’s clearly frustrating him.

The officer said: “Cap, I’m not trained for this.”

The instructor replied: “By the end of the week you will.”

During a break, Officer William Kasberg with SAPD’s mental health unit tells the officer in training what he did right.

“You didn’t elevate your voice," he said. "You didn’t try to grab a hold of her.”

Kasberg is with the SAPD's Integrated Mobil Partners Action Team, which is comprised of two mental health officers, and a specially trained paramedic. The goal is deescalate the scene and get the subject into mental health services.

“The biggest thing we want you guys to do is to really focus on is reassurance of safety," Kasberg said. "Paranoia, if they demonstrate any signs of paranoia, reassure them that they are not in trouble. Nobody is going to hurt you.” 

Law Enforcement officers from across Texas are taking part in the training and they will be bringing what they learned back to their departments to train other officers.

David Martin Davis can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi

CORRECTION: The name of the actress Vianney Wallace was misspelled.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi