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How MPD approaches de-escalation and mental health training

New appointees to Madison’s Civilian Oversight Board have called for more training in both areas.
Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 6:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As conversations around police reform continue in 2020, newly-appointed members of Madison’s Civilian Oversight Board have called for more de-escalation and mental health training. NBC15 took a look at programs the Madison Police Department has in place.

Before becoming a Madison Police officer, new recruits go through MPD’s Police Academy.

“We have a lot more, I think, training then what is the minimum requirements,” said MPD Academy Sergeant Theresa Magyera.

Magyera said MPD recruits go through 900 hours of academy training, more than the 720 mandated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Over 100 of those hours involved de-escalation and mental health training.

Magyera said it is important officers are prepared to interact with someone in a crisis.

“Verbal and non-verbal skills are ways that we can de-escalate situations,” she said.

Magyera explained police academy training stresses clear communication. Unless there is an immediate danger, they are looking to avoid using physical force.

“We try to emphasize that is the best possible outcome, so we don’t have to use force on people,” Magyera said.

Recruits also go through specific training on interacting with people dealing with mental health crises.

“There’s definitely a crisis management block in the academy that’s taught by our mental health sergeant,” Magyera explained.

Sarah Shimko, the mental health sergeant, also runs MPD’s full-time Mental Health Unit. The unit was created in 2015.

“How can we exhaust every reasonable option rather than using the criminal justice system?” Shimko said of the unit’s mission.

Officer in the Mental Health Unit partner with crisis workers from Journey Mental Health to respond to calls and connect people with resources.

“The Mental Health Officers have the ability, they have a more flexible schedule, to be able to do the outreach, do the check-ins,” Shimko explained.

Shimko added that she is encouraged to see local government invest in mental health resources outside the criminal justice system.

“Working together and having that strong partnership is just key,” she said.

MPD also said officer training does not stop after the Academy. Magyera explained officers are required to go through at least 24 hours of training every year, which can include updated de-escalation and crisis management.

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