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Sep 7, 2023

Training for Police Officers on Intervention in Mental Health Situations

Despite having rogue cop in the department, as well as incidents of police brutality and, in extreme cases, death, police officers are sworn to protect and serve.  But they are human beings and are also facing life pressures that can sometimes lead to mental health issues. This, as well as ensuring that officers do not violate the rights of citizens with mental health conditions, is what was discussed at a session held today at the Queen Street Police Station in Belize City. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Today, a rather sensitive discussion was held with a group of police officers. It surrounded the issue of mental health, as police officers are often the first responders.


Lion Leslie

Lion Leslie, Psychologist, Belize Police Department

“How to deal with mentally challenged citizens. As police officers, they are always the first responders to go on a scene. A training like this is to help them enable how to respond to these people, how to diffuse the situation without going to a lethal harm as we have seen in the past.”


The collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness has also seen a policy manual created and disseminated to police officers. It provides them with knowledge on how to best deal with situations where persons with mental health conditions are agitated and there is need for intervention.


Lion Leslie

“They learn about distancing, understanding how to read both verbal and non-verbal behaviour, how to respond asking the correct open-ended questions – again in order to diffuse it rather than agitate the person. They also learn how to reach out to the mobile clinic from the Ministry of Health and other resources that are available to them.”


Ingrid Bonilla

Nurse Ingrid Bonilla, Mental Health Coordinator, Central Health Region

“They’ve been able to identify certain scenarios that they have encountered, how they responded to those scenarios, how the public perceives them as officers and how they are treated as officers, the expectations that people have for them are sometimes greater that they may be able to provide. But they understand their roles as officers as well.”


Psychiatric Nurse Ingrid Bonilla is the Mental Health Coordinator at the Central Health Region in Belize City. While facilitating today’s session, she says that she has detected a change in how officers view persons with mental health conditions.


Nurse Ingrid Bonilla

“When it comes to an individual they may identify as having a mental illness, they are considered to be different, not someone of value, treating them as if though the goal is to protect themselves more as officers, because that person is more dangerous. And at the same time, but times have evolved and I noticed in this training that officers did not consider them as valuable as they do now. Now, they actually in this training, I have identified where officers see those with mental illness as someone that has rights.”


But what about the mental health of police officers? Like relatives and friends of slain persons and even those exposed to trauma, police officers may also be battling emotional pressures, financial issues that affect them mentally. Psychologist with the Belize Police Department, Lion Leslie says that the wellbeing of officers is also very important in order for them to carry out their duties.


Lion Leslie

“Since I came onboard three months ago, it is something I have pushed a lot internally through a lot of information via WhatsApp, via emails. How to look at yourself and assess whether you may be struggling with certain things. Police officers going to a traffic accident scene, a murder scene, those things do leave a trauma, a vicarious trauma that initially, you may not sense it that something is wrong, but when you really begin to self-reflect you see that something is off with me – I may not be sleeping okay. So those are things that I have began to push with them internally.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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