BELMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- According the most recent statistics, at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in the United States have mental health problems. That's according to a 2013 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and National Sheriffs' Association. Bay Area law enforcement is now trying to do something about that.
These crisis intervention training programs are really important for law enforcement officers. In almost every county of the Bay Area, most of the subjects in officer-involved shootings are mentally challenged. In San Mateo County, for example, that number is about 75 percent.
In one scenario on Thursday, sheriff's Deputy Jim Coffman pretended to be a Vietnam veteran with PTSD sleeping on a park bench. Two officers were picked from the class to respond to a 911 call about the situation. In this scenario, they woke the man up and the veteran responded by holding up a TV remote, thinking it was a gun and that the enemy is behind the bushes. The officers chosen for the role-playing scenario had to neutralize the situation using what they've learned.
Sadly, many of these real-life confrontations end up with force when perhaps they could be resolved peacefully by calming the man.
"Allow for some dialogue because when someone's talking they're not fighting, and that's what we want to train the officers to do," said Coffman.
For the past week, 35 sheriff's deputies and Peninsula police officers have been enrolled in this crisis training program. The role playing and classes were only a part of the program. They also heard from families of those with mental illness.
Brisbane police Sgt. Michele Bourg says the dialogue was invaluable.
"Having the families here was really important," she said. "And the things they want from law enforcement agencies responding to the scene and their difficulties in dealing with the same situations."
Redwood City police Officer Jess Macias added, "That kinda heightened my awareness, how people are and how they act."
At the end of the day, a graduation ceremony for the officers and deputies, who now armed with more tools that may enable them to defuse potentially violent situations without lethal force.
"I've been a police officer for over 27 years and I can tell you, it was a real eye opener," said San Mateo Sheriff's Deputy Fernando Realyvasquez.