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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – When approaching someone with mental illness, a specially trained police officer can defuse a tense situation and protect everyone involved. There are times when a mentally ill person slips into an unstable state, which can lead to tragedy. To prevent that, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) collaborates with law enforcement.

“We work to teach the police officers how to respond and what the available resources are in the community,” said Kyle Dooley, director of the NAMI St. Louis Crisis Intervention Team.

The 40-hour basic training program includes collaboration from behavioral health providers.

“We have doctors come in and teach the medication portion. We have other mental health professionals who are professional in what they do teach that block…for us,” Dooley said.

Role playing helps officers understand what mental illness looks like and what it sounds like.

Whether it’s schizophrenia, paranoia or bipolar disorder, the CIT community policing model gets the backing of the St. Louis County Police Department. Sgt. Jeremy Romo said county officers receive about 50 calls per week related to mental health crises.

“A lot of our contact is with people that maybe haven’t been diagnosed or have not yet been connected to services …and so in a lot of cases, we are the first step,” Romo said.

In January, NAMI St. Louis announced police departments in seven Missouri counties have committed to send every officer through this training; that’s good for everyone.

“As a law enforcement officer, I cannot provide anybody with care,” Romo said. “What I can do is reach out to the individuals in the community that we have developed relationships with that do have the ability to connect that person to services.”