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Minn. lawmakers consider better police training for mental health crises

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Scene of a shooting in Roseville
A Roseville, Minn., squad car waits in front of an apartment building at 1610 Co. Road B., just east of Snelling Avenue, in the early morning hours of Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Roseville officers shot and killed a man inside the building the night before.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

A bill that would require all police officers in Minnesota to receive crisis intervention training is showing some life in the state Legislature.

  The Senate Judiciary Budget committee heard the bill Monday before deciding to lay it over for possible inclusion in the Judiciary Finance omnibus bill.

The law would require all estimated 10,000 police officers in Minnesota to get four hours of training on how to respond to mental health calls. Police say the number of mental health calls is increasing, while only some departments have implemented a week-long, 40-hour training model.

The bill's sponsor is state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, where police shot and killed John Birkeland in February. The 52-year-old was known to have "mental outbursts." Police shot him after he stabbed a police dog in the head with a knife.

The training would help officers navigate the mental health system in Minnesota, refer patients to treatment centers or help calm them down.

"Some of the basic de-escalation techniques, I think is really important," said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "If they're in a situation where a CIT officer comes in, they're also going to understand better what that CIT officer is trying to do." 

Abderholden has long advocated for various versions of the bill over the past 10 years. She said requiring week-long training wasn't as well-received because it's costly, especially for small departments.

The four hours is a good start, she said.

"If you get four hours of training, I think you'll learn what you don't know," Abderholden said. "Perhaps people would be interested in obtaining more after that."

A state Office of Legislative Auditor report on mental health services in county jails found sheriffs statewide reported about 13 percent of the law enforcement officers they employ have completed a week-long, 40-hour, crisis intervention training. It's not clear how many other police officers in Minnesota have received the training.