Fatal Buffalo Grove shooting: What kind of training do suburban cops get on mental health issues?

A day after the police-involved fatal shooting of a man in mental distress in Buffalo Grove, a law enforcement educator detailed the type of training police throughout the suburbs undergo to respond to such situations.

Authorities say interactions with people showing signs of mental illness are growing increasingly common. The sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed into law in February mandates that all officers go through crisis intervention training to learn specialized policing responses for people with mental illnesses.

It's an eight-hour course for new recruits and 40-hour training for current cops on the beat.

At the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy at the College of DuPage, new police officers take blocks of classes that examine mental illness and nonnormative behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder and interacting with people with disabilities, according to Jim Volpe, the academy director and a former Wheaton police chief.

General role playing scenarios often present actors exhibiting some type of mental illness, he said.

"We do so much scenario training - traffic stops, crisis scenarios," Volpe said. "We hit them with that the first day in the door - that people are going to give you all sorts of different problems, and you've got to be able to deal with them reasonably, legally and compassionately."

Current police officers who come to the Glen Ellyn-based community college for their state-mandated in-service training take crisis intervention courses along with classes that cover other new topics, including criminal law updates, and implicit bias and diversity training.

The new law requires officers to be recertified by taking 30 hours of continuing education courses every three years.

"The training demand right now is incredibly high," Volpe said. "It's hard for the trainers to keep up with it. Everyone's demanding training to keep up with these mandates."

But, he added, "we're going to get a lot better officers on the street because of this training, and some of these mandates are a good thing."

In Buffalo Grove just after midnight Thursday, a police officer shot and killed 25-year-old Brian Christopher Howard, who was firing two guns in a park and advancing toward the officer and a partner, authorities said.

Police Chief Steven Casstevens said during a Thursday morning news conference that he believes the officers did everything they were trained to do to avoid that type of outcome. It was the first officer-involved shooting in the village's history.

But the mother of the man killed by police, Kristine Howard, told the Daily Herald later Thursday that she wished police had better training on issues of mental health.

Casstevens on Thursday said his officers are trained in de-escalation, critical incident response and mental health first aid. On Friday, department officials didn't respond to additional questions about the exact training regimen officers undergo.

The Buffalo Grove case - in which the man firing two guns may have called 911 to bring the police response that led to his death - has some parallels to a similar incident in May in Villa Park.

Though the Buffalo Grove police chief declined to speculate on whether the Thursday morning incident was a case of so-called "suicide by cop," that was the determination rendered by DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin in declaring that a Villa Park officer's shooting of 25-year-old Haven Bailey was justified.

While declining to discuss specifics of that case - referring back to Berlin's August news release - Villa Park Police Chief Mike Rivas on Friday agreed with the value of additional training for officers on issues of mental health. Two-thirds of his department's officers have completed crisis intervention training, a process that he said began before the May 24 shooting.

"It's easily one of the best courses any law enforcement officer could take," said Rivas, who took the class himself at College of DuPage. "We deal with mental crises almost on a daily basis. Officers have to deal with it the best they can."

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The Homeland Security Education Center at the College of DuPage is where new police recruits and veteran officers undergo training for crisis intervention. The course is among the training requirements outlined in a state police reform bill approved this year. Daily Herald File Photo
Jim Volpe, director of the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy at the College of DuPage, said the demand for police training is high, especially with new state mandates in place. "We're going to get a lot better officers on the street because of this training, and some of these mandates are a good thing," he said. Daily Herald File Photo
Villa Park Police Chief Mike Rivas
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