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Police: Dealing with mental illness is increasingly part of the job

Published On: May 20 2013 08:02:28 PM CDT
Updated On: May 20 2013 09:38:16 PM CDT


A Dane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson says deputies have transported Brent Brozek to a mental health facility multiple times.

Authorities say the 43-year-old man barricaded himself in his home when they tried to execute a court-ordered eviction. When Brozek finally emerged, he charged at officers with a large sword. The officers attempted to take him down with non-lethal bean bag rounds, but when Brozek charged again, they fatally shot him.

Three Madison Police officers are on administrative leave.

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray passed the internal investigation of the officer-involved shooting to the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigations, according to spokesperson Joel DeSpain. Wray believed the decision was prudent as the department reviews its policies and procedures with such investigations.

According to sheriff’s office spokesperson Elise Schaffer, Dane County deputies have taken Brozek to a mental health facility six times in 2004 and 2009. Court records also show Brozek was convicted of disorderly conduct and hit and run in 2004.

Madison Police are not commenting on Brozek’s mental status, but the department finds that dealing with mental illness is increasingly part of their job.

“Because we don't know when or where a mental health crisis may arise, all of our officers receive the training necessary to respond with compassion and the skills necessary to de-escalate a situation,” Madison Lt. Kristen Roman said.

In addition to training that introduces officers to various mental illnesses and ongoing connections with mental health providers in the city, Roman said there is a system of mental health liaisons in place. Those officers voluntarily take on the responsibility of checking in on people who have known mental health histories.

“The more information we can get, the better, because certainly we can take that into consideration in whatever kind of response we deploy,” Roman said.

Julianne Carbin is the executive director of the National Association of Mental Illness Wisconsin, and she has noticed that law enforcement is the first point of contact for more people who may need treatment.

“Often times, the first place that they interact with someone when they're having a mental health crisis is when law enforcement is called,” Carbin said, “and then, often they'll be admitted into a jail system.”

NAMI runs its own program for law enforcement agencies called Crisis Intervention Team training. Carbin said more than 500 officers around Fox Valley have completed the 40-hour training, and forces in and around Milwaukee are also taking part. The organization also partnered with the Department of Corrections for training.

“The calls are definitely more complex, so our hope would be that they would feel comfortable knowing how to assess a situation and use deescalating techniques to ensure that everyone walks away safely, the individual, the officers, as well as the general community,” Carbin said.

Carbin said the CIT training is multi-faceted, but includes a “hearing voices” simulation. In that, officers will put on a set of headphones to experience firsthand what some people go through when they’re on scene.

The DCI is not releasing any mental health-related information, including any official diagnosis for Brozek.

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