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New training helps officers handle incidents involving mentally ill

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CHARLOTTE -- Law enforcement officers across North Carolina are receiving new training on how to deal with the mentally ill.

The new training helps officers on how to handle those with mental illness before the situation escalates and potentially gets violent.

"It can get out of hand real quick," said Belmont Police Chief Charlie Franklin.

Fortunately, that was not the case Saturday when Belmont police responded to the Hampton Inn to find 61-year-old Frederick Denny barricaded inside his room.

"During negotiations and the things he was talking about and running his information we learned he did have some mental problems," said Franklin.

Franklin said officers pepper sprayed Denny to help bring him out without further harm. He credits the training they have received to deal with mentally ill suspects.

"We approach it a little differently. We try to use tactics we learn to deal with people with mental illness," said Franklin.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) worked with several groups to rewrite the training on mental illness, which went in to affect across North Carolina on July 1.

Officials said the new curriculum provides basic listening, empathy and de-escalation skills to help prevent arrests.

The president of NAMI-Charlotte said the training makes all the difference.

"The police officers that go through the training, they learn to listen better they learn to focus on de-escalating, and realize the power and authority they have to actually escalate a situation,” said David Spann.

Spann said his brother, who suffers from Schizophrenia, was not so lucky.

"Last year, in another state, an officer mishandled a situation in which fanned the flames of fear within the community in which he lived," said Spann.

His brother was arrested and spent three weeks in jail before the charges were dropped.

Spann now helps teach the courses in the Charlotte area to prevent unnecessary arrests or violence involving police and the mentally ill.

NAMI members says the goal is to have 100 officers go through the new mental health training each year. So far, they said 400 officers in Mecklenburg County have completed the course.

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