Tucson police train for increase in mental health calls - Tucson News Now

Tucson police train for increase in mental health calls

Tucson police take more than 5,000 people a year to a mental health facility. (Source: KOLD News 13) Tucson police take more than 5,000 people a year to a mental health facility. (Source: KOLD News 13)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Over the past few years the Tucson Police Department has seen a spike in the number of people they respond to who are suffering from a mental health crisis.

TPD said in the past they used to take an average of 1,500 people a year to a mental health facility in Tucson, but now that number has climbed to more than 5,000 people a year.

“Both in Tucson and nationwide we are seeing a prevalence of people who will try to force police officers into lethal encounters,” said Sgt. Jason Winsky, head of TPD’s Mental Health Support Team.

One of those encounters happened last month in Tucson. There was an officer-involved shooting at the South Lawn Cemetery. Police said Joseph Zimmerman was suicidal and pointed his gun at officers.

“We train to do everything we can to avoid those situations,” Winsky said.

Winsky said substance abuse and prescription drugs have contributed to the increase in mental health calls. His team, which started 3 years ago, has gone through extensive training. The first thing they do on a call is try to ground the person back to reality.

“I don’t see what you’re seeing and neither do the other officers here so can we consider the possibility that there’s not something there that’s threatening you,” Winsky said.

Winsky said “low and slow” communication is key as they try to get the person to drop their weapon.

“We always tell them put the phone down, whatever else might be in your hands, keys anything, put it all down and slowly walk outside,” Winsky said.

Officers also work to create distance and barriers to stay protected during the negotiations. Winsky said once in custody, the suspect’s mental health problems are not going to be solved in jail and that’s why they work to get folks the help they need and take then to a mental health facility.

“More people receiving more treatment, the better the outcomes are going to be no matter what, for us as police officers, for the community for the city, for everyone it’s better,” Winsky said.

Winsky also said the majority of people suffering from a mental illness are not dangerous. He said just listening to the person can also help de-escalate the situation.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help there is a community-wide crisis line available 24/7 at 520-622-6000.

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