MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some police officers across Minnesota are going through training on how to identify veterans in crisis.
The training is meant to help officers recognize and offer support for a growing number of returning war veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
Officers from St. Paul, Minneapolis and Richfield police departments as well as University of Minnesota and Metro Transit officers took part in the training. Minnesota has the distinction of being home to the longest deployed national guard unit in the country.
Thousands of men and women have served multiple tours overseas and returned back to their hometowns in Minnesota.
“The face of a veteran is very much different today than it was in the first gulf war or Vietnam,” retired Marine John Baker said.
Baker is a defense attorney who co-teaches a class called, “De-escalation Strategies for Minnesota Veterans in Crisis.” He tells officers what to look for, like combat badges, bumper stickers or clothing that helps identify a person as a veteran.
“What we want is to understand that this is a veteran, and if it’s a veteran crisis, how do we get them to treatment,” Baker said.
Officers from the St. Paul Police Department took part in the training, too.
“It’s a new item in our bet that we will be able to use and hopefully use less force,” St. Paul Police Sgt. Paul Paulos said.
Sgt. Paulos says it’s not a free pass for veterans, but a tool that can be used to get them the help they need.
“This really adds into insight to us,” Sgt. Paulos said. “What to look for, what resources are being made available. I think we owe the men and women who protect us those things.”
The training also takes away stigmas some veterans face when returning from war.
“Most of our veterans are coming back — they are very successful, they’ve been through the best training in the world, and they’ve been tested on some of the toughest battle fields,” Baker said.
Baker says only a small percentage of war vets come home with PTSD or a TBI. He says he believes this training is helping police officers find peace for veterans who left the war but the war never left them.
Baker is one of the founders of Veteran’s Court, which assists veterans charged with crimes who are dealing with an addiction or mental illness. He says since the de-escalation program has been taught in Minnesota there have been no incidents where veterans in crisis have ended in violence or the death of the veteran.