MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Faith leaders, community members and law enforcement officers met Saturday to talk about the challenges police face when responding to crisis calls.
More than 30 people gathered at All Shores Wesleyan Church to discuss how to build trust with police and residents.
They began by watching a documentary called “Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops.” It follows two officers who are part of the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit.
Following that, the group listened to a panel as they discussed the importance of officers knowing how to build connections in a crisis.
The panel consisted of E.J. Wood, pastor of All Shores Wesleyan Church, Norton Shores Police Chief Jon Gale, and two representatives from Prison Fellowship, David Jimenez and Sammy Perez.
“I’m glad I came. It was very informative,” attendee Jason Johnson said.
Chief Jon Gale believes officers have to build rapport to build trust. It’s a task Johnson said police can’t do alone.
“We can’t be everyday problem solvers where we are moving from call to call. We need to slow down, take the time and help people on that first call,” he said.
“We will go a lot farther if we are open minded and judge law enforcement on a case by case basis,” Johnson added.
Chief Gale appreciates how conversations about mental health are becoming a priority.
As a member of law enforcement for over 30 years, he says the topic wasn’t ever discussed when he went through the police academy and various trainings.
As chief, his department has made improvements in how officers are trained. He credits that to a partnership with Health West, a behavioral health and substance use clinic in Muskegon County.
“They come in our briefing areas before our shifts and we bring out actual police reports where we’ve had mental health crisis situations within the last week or two weeks and we talk about them and how we can do better,” he said.
He added a lack of funding is a barrier for many departments, especially those with a small force. Without the necessary resources, it’s difficult for police to do their job effectively.
“A lot of the reason we have success is through grant funding. We need resources, money resources,” he said.
The Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act was also a topic during the discussion and an issue that Congress has yet to pass.
It would provide funding to departments to train officers to respond to mental, behavioral or substance use calls.
The Senate approved it in August. It failed in the House last week, though it can be voted on again.