TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — “Mental illness is not a crime, it is a medical condition,” says Eric Weaver, a former Rochester Police officer who now teaches other officers about mental health awareness.

Weaver taught a week-long program, the Emotionally Distressed Persons Response Team Training, to officers from the Troy Police Department and other departments in and outside of Rensselaer County. The Troy Police Department responded to around 900 calls for someone going through a mental health crisis last year alone.

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Captain Matthew Montanino says most of the calls they respond to are for a mental health crisis, but before leaving the police academy, officers only go through about 24-hours of mental health training. “Given today’s day and age, it may not be enough,” Montanino says. Which is why the department created the Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team Training in 2006.  

“We hope this class provides more of an understanding of mental illness and what mental illness is so they [police officers] can go out and recognize when somebody is having a crisis and then the goal is to get that person the help they need,” the captain explains.

So far, according to Montanino, nearly 85 out of 130 officers with the Troy Police Department have completed the weeklong course which teaches skills like de-escalation and suicide prevention.  “Currently, New York State does not require a lot of training in the academy on mental health issues. So that’s why this is 40 hours of training that officers utilize on a daily basis,” says Eric Weaver.

The training the officers receive in the course is not just meant for them to help the public they serve, but also for them to help themselves if they ever encounter their own mental health crisis.

“We work really hard to let our law enforcement officers know that help is available,” Weaver says, “they do not have the fear of what people will say. To recognize the amount of trauma they experience over the course of 20-25 to 30 years is extraordinary.” 

According to the Troy Police Department, they say they are the only agency in New York State to require such training for their officers.