They call it de-escalation.
In Woodland, law enforcement personnel learned this week to defuse potentially volatile encounters with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed individuals by using words instead of force.
Nineteen officers, dispatchers and security guards from across the region took part in four days of seminars and an afternoon of role playing Thursday. playing Thursday.
Mental health professionals acted out scenarios commonly encountered by police: a suicidally depressed woman, a veteran plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder, a mother with dementia, a daughter in the midst of a manic episode. Participants had to deal with the situations.
The goal, said Michael Summers, training coordinator and a former Sacramento police officer, is to de-escalate incidents.
"Cops often don't have an understanding of how confused and frightened people can be when they're in crisis, so the biggest thing is to slow things down," he said. "We're trying to get them to have a little bit of empathy."
The region has seen at least five fatal confrontations between police and the mentally ill since 2007. The most recent was last month's deadly shooting by Placerville officers of Linda Carol Clark, who stole an ambulance from a hospital where she was getting psychiatric treatment.
The Woodland training sessions began in 2008 after the death of Ricardo Abrahams, an emotionally disturbed man who walked away from a voluntary treatment facility. Police called to check on his welfare used Tasers and batons to subdue him when he became uncooperative. He died of suffocation under restraint.
This week's training at the Woodland Community and Senior Center was hosted by Woodland police and funded by Yolo County's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Department.
Lecturers included a psychiatrist who used an actual brain to show how bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression occur.
A panel of mental health consumers and their families spoke, and an officer who is also a psychologist discussed post-traumatic stress disorder among police involved in fatal confrontations.
On Thursday, students practiced de-escalation techniques through role playing. Summers asked them to set aside weapons and work through improvised situations.
Make sure people are communicating and understand you're a police officer, he said. Determine if they may be hearing voices. And no laying on of hands, he said.
In one session, nurse Sharon Roth acted the part of an elderly woman with dementia who couldn't find her wallet and car keys. She was convinced her adult son had stolen them and called police.
Citrus Heights Police Officer Vince Young and dispatcher Amanda Schroeder entered the room. "Thank God you're here," Roth said.
The son, played by nurse Taha Abdelwahhab, became defensive when Schroeder asked his name and requested he sit. She calmed him down.
Soon, Roth no longer knew who the officers were and became agitated. "Why are you in my house?" she asked.
"You know I'm a police officer, right?" Young asked her.
"I can see your uniform," she said.
"We're going to help you find your wallet and car keys," he told her calmly.
Young said afterward he found the role playing useful.
"All the training we do should incorporate some kind of role playing," he said. "It puts you there more than listening to somebody talk."
The actors were so good, he said, that he soon forgot he was in front of peers and felt immersed in the situation.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.