Mental health training required for law enforcement


CWU Police car Photo Courtesy of Samantha Cabeza

Megan Rogers, News Editor

The Ellensburg Police Department (EPD) has seen an increase in calls related to mental health issues from 2015-2022, according to the Daily Record. 

According to the Daily Record, “In 2015, EPD reported 171 ‘mental health referrals.’ That grew to 245 in 2017 and 424 in 2020. After a slight drop to 408 in 2021, the number reached a new peak of 455 in 2022.” 

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission mandated that all law enforcement officers receive eight hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) back in 2015, according to CWU’s Assistant Chief of Police Eric Twaites. 

“[This] provides us with some resources and tools for us to deal with individuals experiencing any sort of emotional or mental health, physical [and] behavioral issues,” Twaites said. “To increase both not only our safety, but the safety of the individuals that are in crisis.” 

According to Twaites, the initiative I940 took place in 2017, which requires all officers to take de-escalation and mental health training. 

Beyond the base level of training, there is also a 40-hour CIT, according to Kittitas County Sheriff’s Department Inspector Christopher Whitsett. 

“It’s a great training where they bring in experts, mental health professionals, who help deputies and officers to understand that we’re never going to be mental health professionals,” Whitsett said. “But we can learn strategies to try to avoid exacerbating a situation.”

Whitsett said the next level of training that can be an option for law enforcement officers to take is crisis negotiation or hostage negotiation. 

“[It’s] based on the FBI hostage negotiation teams and experience,” Whitsett said. “It’s training, again, by experts and people who’ve been there and how to defuse some of the most dangerous and difficult crises that can happen.” 

Whitsett said that the strategy behind de-escalation is making sure they are there for the right reason and that they control the pace of the incident to the best possible extent. He said they want to be able to use these tools and strategies when appropriate. 

“Sometimes a person in crisis or a criminal suspect does things that don’t permit you to use a lot of different strategies,” Whitsett said. “Our first job is to protect the safety of the public and sometimes, a person in crisis or a criminal suspect can do things that take choices out of your hands.” 

EPD Sergeant Brett Koss said the tactics they use when it comes to de-escalation are time, distances, shielding and communication. 

“What that means is that we take our time, we literally will stand farther back,” Koss said. “It gives people their space, and it gives us our space and it gives us options if we need to run away, if we need to give commands, whatever that is.” 

According to Koss, out of the 1,000 contacts they have every year, there have only been a handful of them where they had to use force because of the CIT.