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MIAMIGIRL-Empathy training for police officers

Violence and death by police shooting are overwhelmingly associated with mentally ill persons. Likewise, mental illness training may be insufficient or ineffective for officers that routinely encounter the mentally ill while on duty. Given the high stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of understanding and empathy towards the disease, empathy training with police officers and family caregivers could influence police-related violence and deaths by building community engagement and constructing a deeper understanding of the mentally ill person.

To solve this problem, I will implement an innovative project aimed at reshaping attitudes towards mentally ill persons. Police officers will participate in an auditory hallucination simulation during roll call. First, police officers will receive a pre-briefing of the exercise. Next, police officers will listen to “Pat Deegan’s Hearing Voices” simulation for 45 minutes while completing: a) an origami puzzle, b) a number crossword puzzle, c) an employment application, and d) a mental status exam. Then, police officers will watch video-taped testimonials of a mentally ill person and a family caregiver that describe their lived experience of being taken into custody for transport to a mental health facility. Finally, the facilitator will debrief police officers and data will be collected to determine: a) if the objectives were met, b) their feelings about the activity, c) lessons learned, and d) how this training may affect future encounters with mentally ill persons.

Within six months of completion, the results of this pilot project will be shared with local police departments, policy makers and mental health stakeholders to suggest improvements in current practice. From these meetings I plan wider dissemination of the results through professional journals and national conferences. Ultimately, the results will be used to justify the project’s significance when requesting larger subsequent funding.

Funded by Miami, FL (July 2018)