A closer look at how police handle mental illness situations

RICHMOND, Va, (WRIC) — New details following the death of a man killed by Richmond Police Tuesday.

Alexander Schoessel’s mother said he had “mental issues, but would not elaborate.

Schoessel was shot and killed after police say he attacked an officer with an ax.

8News Reporter Mark Tenia recently took a closer look at how police prepare to deal with people who may have a mental illness.

Richmond Police said that officers who responded to the scene Tuesday had been trained in Crisis Intervention Training. It’s training specifically aimed at helping officers deal with someone with a mental illness.

If Schoessel was mentally ill, it would be another number in a growing trend of people with mental illness having run-ins with the law.

8News’ spoke with Kathy Harkey with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Harkey said that a growing number of inmates are mentally ill and need treatment.

“I hear about the struggles every single day,” Harkey said. “In Central Virginia, I believe the average range is 15-25 percent of people with mental illness in our correction facilities.”

It’s why Harkey says police departments across the state have implemented crisis intervention training for its officers.

The Richmond Police Department started using the training seven years ago.

“It is a wonderful training,” Harkey said. “They learn how to de-escalate situations. They learn empathy, they gain understanding about what it’s like to live with a mental illness and the challenges that people living with mental illness might face.”

We reached out to the department. They say every officer will be fully CIT Trained and most currently are. However, while not everyone is fully trained, every officer has gone through a module with some CIT training at the academy.

Meanwhile, Harkey had this advice.

“If you have a mental health situation and you need to call 911, ask for a CIT officer,” Harkey said.

Harkey also said that lawmakers have to do a better job of funding services so someone with a mental illness doesn’t have a deadly encounter or get lost in the system.

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News

Find 8News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.