The mental health system in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)has its challenges. One of these include a lack of facilities for people with behavioral issues. Recently, local lawmakers have been shining the light on the inadequacies of the local mental health system, which sometimes includes police response to people experiencing behavioral episodes.
USVI Deputy Police Commissioner of Operations, Dr. Celvin G. Walwyn, says training is needed for officers. “The training that is relevant to law enforcement is the Crisis Intervention Team training, and the reason why it’s relevant to law enforcement is because law enforcement personnel are normally the first people to encounter people with mental health or behavioral episodes,” says Walwyn.
The crisis intervention training is offered by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), and according to the website is a community-based approach to improve the outcomes between first responders and persons with mental illness. That means that the training will help to reduce the likelihood of someone experiencing a behavioral episode being arrested or physically hurt, and instead increase the opportunity for that individual to get treatment.
According to statistics from the Washington Post, 25% of the nearly 1,000 people killed by police in 2018, were people experiencing a mental illness. While those numbers don’t specifically apply to the USVI, Walwyn says the training is still needed.
“Certain things that happen nationally, may not happen here and by having this training, it will ensure that whatever training we get from outside can be tailored to our conditions and our culture here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“People with mental illness may not always respond in a manner that officers’ expect, so they take their time when they are asking questions to get the answers,” says Walwyn. “Officers, once they’re trained as crisis intervention technicians, they wear a pin on their uniform, and people who suffer with mental illness, they know what that pin means….they know that when they see an officer wearing that pin, they can approach him or her, and ask the officer to take them to a place where they can get treatment, or to get medicine,” continued Walywn.
“They know that when they approach an officer wearing that pin, that they’re going to be very respectful towards them and they have nothing to fear in speaking to that officer because they know that he or she has been trained and will treat them fairly,” added Walwyn.
According to Dr. Walwyn, the department is reviewing legislation proposed by lawmakers that would create policies that speak to providing the specified training for officers, and he would like to see it implemented between now and August.
Dr. Walwyn added that there is funding available in the form of grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and once they can get regular funding, he would like to see this training become part of the regular police academy.