HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With calls for mental health emergencies on the rise, Honolulu police have launched a new crisis intervention team.
It’s made up of 58 officers ― all with specific training on how to defuse volatile situations that can turn deadly.
Officer Nicholas Schlapak says he responds to calls for people in mental health crisis at least twice a week.
He says crisis intervention training has changed the way he approaches those sensitive situations.
“The primary goal is to slow things down using de-escalation techniques to build a relationship with that person,” said Schlapak.
“You can find out what the person needs. And handle the situation in a way that hopefully nobody gets hurt. And get the solution the person really does need.”
The department’s crisis intervention team was made possible through a partnership with the Hawaii chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The group trains officers free of charge with the goal of keeping a vulnerable population out of jail.
“We know that a lot of these people who are in mental health crisis on the street are seriously ill and they deserve services and not to be arrested,” said NAMI Executive Director Kumi Macdonald.
Schlapak says since the training he’s personally taking fewer people to lock-up.
“It allowed me to solve problems in a different way that I really didn’t know how to solve to begin with," he said.
HPD’s psychologist, Alicia Rodriguez, is urging lawmakers to focus on mental health treatment by creating more places for people to get help.
“There’s a lot of gaps in the system," she said. “Once an officer de-escalates somebody, where can we take them to? We need more crisis intervention resources.”
She said the goal is to expand the crisis intervention team to include close to 400 officers so when someone calls 911 to report a mental health emergency one of these specially-trained officers can be dispatched 24 hours a day.
This Saturday, NAMI will host its annual fundraiser walk to raise awareness about mental illness and help keep its programs running.
“The majority of what we do is all free, including training officers, going to schools and teaching about mental health. Having classes, support groups,” said Macdonald.
Registration starts at 8 a.m. at the Honolulu Hale Civic Center grounds.