SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A man, depressed and suicidal, teeters on the edge of a highway overpass.

“How’s it going?” an officer asks. “Do you feel like talking to us?”

It was a high-stakes situation where caution and compassion collided for Sacramento Police. Rather than arrest the man, the officer and his partner were armed with words of support for the man in distress.

“We’re here for you bud. We’re here for you,” the officer said.

“I’m glad you waited for us. That means you care. Okay? That means you don’t want to hurt yourself. You waited for us,” said the other officer.

A tragedy was averted and it was a win for all involved, due in large part to the new 40 hours of crisis intervention training that is now mandatory for all academy graduates and current Sacramento Police officers.

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Police officers often interact with people suffering from mental health issues and they are statistically more likely to be arrested, incarcerated or killed by law enforcement. The Sacramento Police Department has a new approach to training its officers, and it is already making an impact.

“Contrary to popular belief, most people who suffer from a mental illness are not inherently violent. But there is always that risk,” said officer Dan Bean, the Mental Health Outreach Officer for the Sacramento Police Department.

That risk comes with a more empathetic response after in-depth training with David Baine, the executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).

“These officers are the last ones to deal with these individuals because nobody else will,” Baine said.

NAMI collaborates with the department to help officers more effectively respond to calls involving people going through a mental health crisis and prevent unnecessary incarcerations and hospitalizations.

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“We teach them de-escalation techniques – that’s part of the training – but part of it is trying to get them to understand that that is someone’s loved one. That’s a family member, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s sibling and get them to understand that,” Baine said.

Last year the department also created a full-time mental health unit which fielded nearly 11,000 calls for service. One of those calls was from Patricia Molina. Molina was suffering from deep depression and was contemplating taking her own life before she says her guardian angel, a member of the department’s mobile crisis support team, showed up to help.

“She drove me to the state hospital across from UC Davis. And from there they took me to Sutter,” Molina said.

That help has come with ongoing care and continued access to resources. It’s given Molina new direction and purpose. They’re real results and success stories Sacramento Police are hoping to build on.

“Just go right ahead and talk to an officer, Get some help,” Molina said.

As of March of this year, Sacramento police have responded to more than 2,900 calls for service that have been mental health related.

Adrienne Moore

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