Horry County police officers trained to recognize mental illness

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – A new law will require every South Carolina police officer to be trained in recognizing mental illness and de-escalating certain confrontations.

Horry County Police Chief, Joseph Hill, said the department has seen an increase in these types of calls.

“We’re seeing it more because there are stressors dealing with finances, stressors dealing with everyday life, dealing with relationships and a lot of folks in the military coming back from overseas that are suffering from traumas related to their service,” added Chief Hill. “So we want to make sure we’re able to provide that service to them.”

The department already requires “Crisis Intervention Training” and the new, state-mandated training will be an additional tool for our local officers.

“It gives officers a perspective,” said Chief Hill. “And it allows them to kind of slow down the encounter and walk these people in crisis through the situation.”

Horry County Police Officer, Summer Goodrum, was able to put the skills she learned in Crisis Intervention Training to work the very next day when she encountered a man on a bridge trying to harm himself.

“In that situation I was surprisingly calm,” said Goodrum. “I just kept my distance so he didn’t feel threatened. I made sure my posture was non-confrontational which is something we learned in that class.”

She was able to talk with the man and get him off the bridge.

“I spoke to him not so much as law enforcement giving commands but just as a person trying to get to know him and figure out what the situation was,” added Goodrum.

Another example of this training used in a real-life scenario came in June when the Horry County Police Department spent 17 hours at a home in Longs after a man barricaded himself inside.

The standoff ended peacefully after a gas technique was used to get the man out of the home.

“It took a long time to resolve the situation but at the end of the day it was a peaceful resolution. So that young man was able to receive services, he was able to leave the house and no shots fired and that’s what we want,” added Chief Hill. “There’s a lot of county resources spent on these people but I think a human life is well worth it.”

He believes the training allows officers to keep preservation of life as their top priority. The now-mandatory course will be part of the additional training officers need every three years to be re-certified.

Chief Hill also wants to hold a follow-up training session with clinicians and people with mental illnesses so officers can learn from their perspective.