Mental illness and the law: Hearing voices unsettling for officers in CIT training

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Seth Leonard
The most eye-opening part of Crisis Intervention Training came on the final day. Officers walked a mile in the shoes of a schizophrenia patient by way of a “psychosis machine.”
Developed by a woman who had the disease as a child and later became a physician, the program plays a continuous track that is made up of the voices she once heard.
Officers had to wear the device for an hour as they attempted various tests.
“You can’t engage in a conversation if you’ve already got one going on inside your head,” said Dr. Joseph LaMotte.
Appreciation for the struggles of mentally ill people was clear immediately as the officers donned the equipment.
“Pink Floyd,” said Brian Kimball of the Salisbury Police. “It’s just as bad.”
Like an album playing backwards, the voices and sounds from the machine were distracting enough for some officers to struggle with the tests.
Voices claimed that the listener is “the one” or that someone is coming to get him. The voices also degrade the listener and make him feel guilty for things he hasn’t even done.
To someone afflicted by a similar set of distractions, being approached by a uniformed officer would be terrifying, the officers learned.
The only safe way to handle such a situation would be to appear as unintimidating as possible, officers realized. For salty officers who have are trained to enforce the law, coming on with a softer side might be a tall order.