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Pima Regional SWAT first in state to take mental health course

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Pima Regional SWAT first in state to take mental health course

By Rikki Mitchell. CREATED Aug 7, 2014

PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - A 17-year-old boy has a gun. He's holed up in a drainage ditch in a Vail neighborhood while negotiators try to talk him down.

And after almost five hours, he surrenders peacefully. Pima Regional SWAT Sgt. Christy Anderson says a recent Mental Health First Aid course for the negotiators helped do that.

"Even our tactical operators who were on scene there with the negotiators, because we were negotiating face to face with the young man, even they were quite impressed with how the negotiations went," she said.

That situation happened at the end of July. The negotiators went through this training only a couple of months ago, so it was the first scene since that course.

The Pima Regional SWAT Negotiators are the first in the state to take the course, which is taught to police, first responders and other public safety departments around the country.

About 20,000 public safety officers around the country have taken the course.

Most of Pima County SWAT Negotiators have already gone through an intensive week-long Crisis Intervention Training. But some members had no mental health training at all. The recent Mental Health First Aid course was able to bridge the gap between those two groups.

"This is just another tool in our toolbox," said Sgt. Carmen Trevizo with the Oro Valley Police Department, who is a Pima Regional SWAT Negotiator. 

Trevizo says in the last 10 years, law enforcement agencies have become more sensitive to mental health issues when responding to scenes.

"Lets just say we're dealing with an individual that falls within the Autism spectrum," she said. "They become very overwhelmed with too much stimulus so traditionally law enforcement would use commands, maybe have lights, sirens. So if we can reduce that stimulus...that can reduce the potential for something happening."

The Pima Regional SWAT Team hopes to eventually put their tactical officers through that same Mental Health First Aid Course. The team includes members from multiple agencies around the county, including Oro Valley Police, Marana Police and Sahuarita Police.

"Often times, when they respond to scenes, it might be a tactical operator who makes the first contact with the person in crisis," said Anderson.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department plans to put every commissioned officer through the Crisis Intervention Training, but because that training course takes a week, it's an ongoing process to get every member certified.

Most departments aim to have just 25 percent of their force certified in Crisis Intervention Training.

"The majority of people that we deal with on a daily basis are in some sort of crisis and have mental health issues," said Anderson. "It better equips us on how to deal with those people."

Rikki Mitchell

Rikki Mitchell

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Rikki Mitchell is a proud University of Arizona grad and joined the KGUN9 team after graduation. Rikki reports as a video journalist for the evening and weekend newscasts.