New bill aims to train SC law enforcement on handling mentally i - FOX Carolina 21

New bill aims to train SC law enforcement on handling mentally ill

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Greenville Police leading the way in training to handle mentally ill without violence Greenville Police leading the way in training to handle mentally ill without violence
GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Greenville Police said it was the 2010 tasing of Andrew Torres that sparked change.

"It was a result of an in-custody death," said Captain Stacey Owens.

It opened the door for training, and Owens said Greenville is now leading the way when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.

“At any given time, seven days a week, there's at least three or four officers working as well as our communications personnel that can recognize a call from someone who is dealing with mental illness," Owens said.

Owens said officers deal with mental illness every day, which is why he believes it's so important that they recognize the difference between a mental and criminal problem.

"They really believe what they see or hear,” Owens said. “If they say they are hearing voices or see an alien or something, it helps us to be able to recognize those symptoms and what to do and not just to respond to them."

Advocate Paton Blough said he knows firsthand the difference proper training can make.

“This comes from a deep place in my heart, I do struggle from Bipolar Type One disorder," Blough said.

The advocate said he's had multiple run-ins with police while suffering from episodes.

"Some of those arrests went well and some of them went very violent," Blough added.

Blough said he was also tased, and after hearing about the Greenville in custody death, he decided to push for change.

"That's what made me think that I had to get involved and try to do something about this," Blough said.

He's now a member of the crisis intervention team and uses his past to help train others for future encounters.

"We try to train officers to ask people's first names and to try to ignore verbal attacks," Blough said.

Senator Karl Allen said he believes the training will help save lives and keep the public safe.

"As well as keep law enforcement safer in letting them de-escalate a situation as opposed to escalating a situation into something criminal," Allen said.

Police said it's not without its struggles. Owens added smaller agencies might have a hard time pulling someone off patrol to do the 40 hours of training.

"Not everyone has as many officers as we have,” Owens said. “So even though the training is free, the challenge is getting everyone trained in your department, and oftentimes that's hard for a small agency."

Greenville is one of 59 police agencies that is already doing the training, but Senator Allen said there are 300 agencies statewide that will need to get all of their officers certified.

He said it might be a slow road, but eventually he believes the training will help make sure the mentally ill get the help they need.

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