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ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Charlie was asleep under a table in a building when two police officers arrived.
“Do you know where you are?” one asks.
Charlie looks up, confused for a moment, then responds, “I’m under a table.”
“Why are you under the table?” a police officer asks.
“I needed to sleep,” Charlie responds.
The officers ask where he lives, and Charlie responds, “In a house in Geneva – up until last night.”
Kane County Sheriff’s Office deputies Tom Durham and Wesley Phelps were role-playing with a professional actor, Andrew Pond, on Oct. 19, during a session of their weeklong Crisis Intervention Training held in a training room at the sheriff’s office.
The 40-hour, weeklong training for 28 officers from 12 departments was intended to help them learn how to respond when members of the public are having a mental health crisis.
Charlie was despondent – having lost his job – was drinking too much and then his wife threw him out – so he walked into a building by following someone else in and passed out under a table.
“I’m not worth the time you guys put in on me,” Charlie tells the deputies.
Eventually, Durham and Phelps build rapport with Charlie and get him to agree to let them call emergency medical services on his behalf.
The session, using trained actors, helps the officers use what they learned, Kane County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Collins said.
For this session, the 28 officers were from Elgin, Aurora, Sugar Grove, North Aurora, Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles, Wayne, Sleepy Hollow, Carpentersville, West Dundee, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois State Police, Collins said.
Each session was recorded while Elgin officer Heather Robinson and actor Lisa Curran gave each participant a critique of what they did right and what they could do to improve.
“There is no script to this,” Robinson said. “There is no magic thing to say. Every person is going to be different. We don’t pick the calls; the calls pick us.”
In another role-play, actor Parrish Collier portrayed Pete, a man who would not leave a library that was closing until he had finished a book he was reading. Three officers, Chris Krason from West Dundee and Carpentersville officers Derek Neuman and Doug Heitkamp, came to see about helping him leave.
It became clear Pete was far from home and he had not taken his medication for three days. Krason offers to take him to an all-night café and buy him coffee and breakfast, defusing the situation and gaining Pete’s trust.
In a similar role-play, Parrish plays a man whose wife has left with his two children because he won’t take his medication – which he says makes him feel like a strung-out zombie. Parrish throws his children’s little plastic toys – yellow ducks, snowmen, clowns – forcefully to the floor.
“It’s too late,” Parrish said, crying in despair. “She’s gone with the kids back to her country.”
But the three officers – Heitkamp, Neuman and Elgin officer Elias Acevedo – kept speaking gently to him while they retrieved the toys and returned them to the bag. They encouraged him to try medication again.
“Right now she’s gone,” Acevedo said, acknowledging Parrish’s grief. “But we do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Robinson said it was critical for officers to ask blunt questions about whether the person in crisis is suicidal. She said not to ask whether they’re thinking of hurting themselves, but to ask straight out whether they are thinking of suicide or killing themselves.
The Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office funded the specialized training at a cost of $10,000, officials said.
The Kane County Board authorized $40,000 for four sessions, with two more to be held next year, officials said.
Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon has said in his monthly media briefing session that training police to de-escalate encounters with people who are having mental health crises diverts them from jail to get the assistance they need.
“Communities that have the unit historically have seen cost savings in their jails, but also at emergency room departments,” McMahon had said at his August media briefing.