Medford police learn to respond to mental health crisis

KTVL, May 6, 2014

Medford Police Corporal Josh Schilder

Medford Police Corporal Josh Schilder

Corporal Josh Schilder has been with the Medford Police Department for nine years. The most common calls he and his team get involve a person in mental health crisis.

“There’s a lot of people that mental health disorder that live normal day to day lives,” says Schilder.

Just last month, Medford police were called out to Poplar Drive. Witnesses say Bryan Hazelwonder was walking in the middle of the street, waving glass bottles in the air.

Schilder says, “He’s semi-cooperative. He won’t give us his name. He’s acting extremely bizarre.”

Hazelwonder was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police. Due to privacy laws, officers can not say if he was examined for  mental health  disorders, but Patrol Lieutenant Curtis Whipple says these type of cases have become all too familiar in Jackson County.

“In the last three years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in our calls for service for mental health issues,” says Whipple.

According to Whipple, mental health related calls within Jackson County increased by 26 percent between 2012 and 2013.  Over the last year, those same calls have gone up by 31 percent.  As a result, officers are required to go through crisis intervention training, also known as CIT.

Whipple says this training is important because “You’re dealing the safety of the officer themselves. You’re dealing with the safety of the mental health person; You’re dealing with the safety of the families: and it’s important to try to resolve these situations the best we can.”

Over two days, several times a year, Medford police officers talk to professionals from Jackson County Mental Health and the private sector. They learn skills in Mental Health, disabilities, and psychosis.Officers also speak to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. They also speak with people they have arrested in the past that have been admitted to a mental health facility.

“You’re talking to them about their disorder, about what it’s like, about how officers could better interact with them when their having a crisis,” explains Whipple.

On the last day of training, police officers wear head phones with a so called “voice  tape.” For hours they hear what someone with schizophrenia hears every single day.

But Whipple points out, “At the end of the class it’s kind of like, yeah this is great, after three hours you can take your head phones off.  Imagine if you had them on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and couldn’t take them off.”

Schilder says this training allows officers to see the whole picture, to hear what it’s like for someone with mental health issues.  He adds that in the end its about communication and trust.

“People who do have mental health issues, they’re perceived as being different. So even they fear how they’re going to be perceived, sometimes when even talking to us,” says Schilder.

Officers point out that people with mental health disorders live a daily routine. When the police are called, that’s when you know something is wrong.

Whipple stresses, “When family members call the police about another family who’s in a mental health crisis, that’s a real crisis because they deal with them, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, they deal with this individual.”

Schilder adds to that saying,  “It could be different things. You could have a person who’s mentally ill, who maybe hasn’t [eaten] in four or five days, and is not going to eat for some reason, because of their mental illness. Is that person a threat to themselves? Yes.”

Schilder and Whipple remind everyone, these individuals aren’t bad people,  they are in need of help.

“I mean they may be in crisis. They may just be in survivor mode and just going,” says Schilder.

Since the crisis intervention training was created in 2012, Whipple says the Medford Police Department has significantly seen a drop in repeat mental health crisis calls.

Between January and March of this year, MPD had 194 written mental health cases.  Twenty-seven of those cases were second-time calls, and three were third-time calls.