LPD teaches advanced training for increasing mental health calls

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LINCOLN, Neb. – Responding to mental health calls is something that takes up a lot of Lincoln Police officers' time. In fact, in 2017 officers logged more than 143,000 hours on these calls.

The number of mental health calls has more than tripled over the last 18 years.

In 2017, LPD responded to more 3,500 mental health calls compared to around 1,100 in 2000.

That's why officers are getting more advanced training on how to help people with mental illnesses.

It's called BETA training, and for Lincoln Police officers like Todd Beam, he said it's a necessity for their job.

"It confirmed for me just what we're seeing on the street," said Beam.

This year, LPD had 3,543 mental health calls. That's the most since 2000 when they started specifically tracking mental health calls.

"That we're having more and more individuals that are having or are in mental crisis," Beam.

Because of the increase, LPD created a program targeted at training veteran officers about mental illness.

"You know we don't want to arrest people just because they are mentally ill. We want to get them to the right spot. Sometimes that's a hospital, sometimes it's some type of respite care or sometimes it's just reuniting someone with their family," said Joseph Wright, a former police officer who helped develop the program.

It's called Behavioral Health Threat Assessment Training, or BETA. The program is 40 hours and aimed at showing officers resources in their community, and teaching them how to better handle a mental health call.

"To recognize somebody that's actually having a mental health crisis and knowing that that's maybe a situation that we need to deescalate in a different manner, that we can step back. It's not necessarily a criminal investigation, it's somebody that needs our help," said Beam.

Monday's afternoon lesson was from pharmacist Ally Deringanderson. She broke down different illnesses and the drugs that are used to treat them.

"I think that to help the officers understand what the drugs really can do and what the drugs cannot do is helpful to them in encountering and treating these people appropriately," said Deringanderson.

The officers also hear firsthand accounts from people who live with mental illness everyday.

"Who are really our best teachers, they provide the most tangible information for us to use to know what it's like to be in a mental health crisis and what we can do to help them," said Wright.

The BETA program is offered to all law enforcement in Region 5, which includes 16 counties in southeastern Nebraska. But, program teachers know for rural communities, it can be hard to send an officer to Lincoln for an entire week. So this year, they're doing the first ever mini-BETA's that are eight hour intensive classes.