Spokane Police, Eastern State bridge gap on helping those in crisis

Someone you know is likely suffering from some kind of mental illness.

It’s a common struggle millions of people are dealing with across the nation. In fact, one in five Americans will experience mental illness this year.

That’s why Spokane police officers are taking an extra step to help those people suffering.

Whenever there’s an emergency related to mental health, it’s a police offer responding to the scene.

So, Eastern State Hospital and SPD are bridging the gap with a special program called, “Cop Talk.”

The point of the program is for each side to remember that we are all humans first.

The officers learn what triggers the patients.

Something as simple as the tone they use, or calling the person in crisis by their first name can make all the difference.

Carrie Christiansen and Graig Butler have led the way with the program. Christiansen is a nurse at Eastern State, but she is also a reserve officer for Spokane PD. Butler interacts with the patients weekly, bringing in the perspective of a police officer.

“When I started out working at Eastern, I heard a lot of stories from patients about traumatic detention or how they were scared of law enforcement,” Christiansen said.

That’s where “Cop Talk” comes bridges the gap.

“There may be tension at first. A lot of people come in here with criminal charges, even on the civil side,” said Steve Einhaus, a peer specialist at Eastern State. “But, they learn officer Graig and officer Dave, they’re just two cool guys just like them. Just people getting through life.”

But, often times Butler is doing his work in street clothes as he just interacts with patients as a friend.

“We’d shoot basketballs, we’d play cards, and we’d just talk about our lives,” Butler said. “If they ask, ‘well what do you do? Who are you?’ then I would tell them I’m a police officer, but if they didn’t ask we would just talk.”

About 10 percent of emergency service calls are related to mental health issues, so this program helps the success of those calls.

“Maybe down the road, somebody’s life is saved because they learned how to be arrested properly,” Einhaus said.