Mesa Police announce changes to crisis training

- Mesa Police say they have responded to more than 2,600 calls of threatening, attempted, or actual suicides in 2015. Last week they responded to a transgendered man who was threatening suicide, that call turned deadly. The Mesa Police Department says they will continue working closely with mental health professionals to train their officers.

"When I was appointed Mesa police chief last year one of my top priorities was to enhance our ability as a department to recognize and respond to individuals experiencing mental health challenges," said Chief John Meza.

Meza says because officers respond to thousands of calls each year with people experiencing mental health challenges, crisis intervention training or CIT is a must. The 40-hour class includes communication and de-escalation practices, and reality based scenarios.

"The training focuses on understanding and managing incidents involving individuals with psychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse, dementia, as well as homelessness," he said.

Mesa Officers were met with a real life scenario earlier in January when they responded to a suicide call at the home of a transgendered man with Aspergers. That man Kayden Clarke posted a touching viral video with his service dog last summer.

"Upon the officers arrival, the situation quickly escalated from the individual holding a knife to their stomach to a sudden and very rapid change of action by turning the knife towards the officers while lunging and moving forward towards them threatening their lives," said Meza.

Meza says at that point the officers determined their only viable course of action was to fire their weapons, ultimately killing Clarke. He says most incidents like this don't have this outcome, and he is hoping it is the last.

"During the past year I assigned a full-time crisis response coordinator Detective Amanda Stamps to oversee the many aspects of the departments training and to confer with various mental health providers and clinical experts across our valley," he said.

Meza has created a full-time citywide Crisis Response Team, and he will lead a mental health advisory board. He also added 8 hours of basic CIT training to the curriculum of the Mesa Police Academy for all recruits and a mental health refresher course for all in-service police officers.

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