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April 22, 2013 at 6:29 AM

Why the Washington Legislature should pay for crisis intervention training for police

Joyce Ostling holds a portrait of her late son, Doug Ostling.

Joyce Ostling holds a portrait of her late son, Doug Ostling. (Photo by Steve Ringman/Seattle Times.)

After finishing my Sunday column about the need for requiring crisis intervention training for police officers, I was able to catch up to Bill and Joyce Ostling, who have a poignant personal story that makes the case for state funding unequivocally.

I was writing as the mother of a teen-ager with autism, but they come at the issue as parents who raised a son and helped him through a troubled adulthood, only to watch him be shot by a police officer at their own home. “It was horrible,” Joyce said on the phone. Doug had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was suspected of having Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Their son, 43, died in October 2010. A federal jury concluded the City of Bainbridge Island and the police chief failed to provide adequate training — this story in The Times by reporters Ken Armstrong and Jonathan Martin, gives a chilling account of that night. (Jonathan has since joined the editorial page staff.) The Ostlings were awarded $1 million, according to this June 2012 story.

Bill and Joyce have been lobbying the Legislature to ensure what happened that night to their son never happens again.

They have been working with Sue Rahr, the former King County Sheriff who now heads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, to persuade lawmakers to appropriate money to provide crisis intervention training not only to police academy cadets but also to the state’s 10,000 officers already on the job. The training is aimed at helping officers recognize people, who might have mental illness, intellectual disabilities or otherwise have atypical behavior, and giving them more tools to help. That could mean noticing when more than simple law-breaking is at play, helping a person who is intoxicated with a crisis referral, or assisting homeless people with mental illness avoid becoming victims of crime.

The Senate has appropriated about $330,000 for crisis intervention training, which Rahr says would be a good start. The House has appropriated nothing, but in a phone interview House budget lead Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said he is open to discussing some funding. The Ostlings’ plan, next year, to see a bill passed that mandates local law enforcement agencies provide this training.

They keep newspaper clippings of stories they feel might have had another result if police had more training. Among them are the case of Otto Zehm, a man with intellectual disabilities who died in 2006 after an encounter with Spokane Police. An officer was convicted in 2011 of beating Zehm and then lying about it to cover up his actions. Another case they are watching closely is a case of a mentally ill man, Jack Keewatinawin, who was shot in Seattle last February.

“As you [are] aware, lots of the mentally ill people get into trouble with the law by doing other criminal acts,” the Ostlings wrote me in an email with their list. “Our son was not a criminal and had no police record. All people [have] civil rights and should be treated fairly.”

0 Comments | Topics: Doug Ostling, mental illness, police training

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