Police Officers in Belize Trained to Engage Persons with Mental Illness

Police Officers in Belize Trained to Engage Persons with Mental Illness

A group of nineteen police officers are being trained in Belize City today on how to engage persons with mental illness in the commission of their duties. The training is the first in a four-part series coordinated by the Belize Police Department, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Ingrid Bonilla, Mental Health Coordinator for the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s Central Health Region, said that the trainings will be focused on helping officers to identify some of the common signs of mental illness. She said that the officers will also learn their role and the role of mental health professionals in addressing a mentally ill person having an episode in public. Bonilla said that she has conducted various training sessions with police officers and has seen a gradual shift in the way that police officers view and value persons with mental illness. 

Leon Leslie, Psychologist with the Belize Police Department, said that officers discussed practical scenarios such as the November 2022 incident, where a mentally ill man wielding a knife was shot by police on the Swing Bridge in Belize City. He said that the scenario is only one in a wide spectrum of interactions officers can have. 

Leon Leslie, Psychologist, Belize Police Department: “Our police officers are first responders. Something happens, there’s disturbance, they’re the first ones on the ground. They may encounter someone who may be suffering from mental illness so how do I approach this person? How do I diffuse this person? And what exactly is my role? And to what extent should I realize it’s beyond my competence level? It’s mainly constables, corporals, and sergeants, as I realized these are the ones who, as I said, they’re the first ones that go out there. Yes, you have the senior officers that would respond if the need be but these are the ones who automatically will be the ones going out there so the training is geared more specifically for them and as we move along, we’ll begin to incorporate other senior officers. So it’s a training in general in how to identify symptoms, identify both verbal and non-verbal cues that, hey something might be wrong with the person, the person may be suffering from mental illness. The case that you’re referring to was one of the more obvious one where you could actually see the person acting out but again in that case the police officer what can I do? What are my limits? I believe the one you’re talking about is the one on Swing Bridge and the person had a knife so automatically you have to as a police officer be concerned for your safety. So training like this is alright if that happens again where do I step back and say, you know what let me call in the Ministry of Health with their mobile clinic. So understanding rules is basically this training here.”

Leslie said that the trainings will be held with officers throughout the Belize District.

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