The number of crisis intervention-trained Fort Smith police officers rose again Friday.

Ten Fort Smith police officers on Friday afternoon graduated from crisis intervention training at the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center. There are now 40 officers with crisis intervention training, which provides mental health education, in the Police Department.

"It’s a very important aspect of law enforcement. The Department realizes the need to have officers trained that deal with people who are having a mental health crisis," said Fort Smith Deputy Police Chief Waymon Parker.

Law enforcement officers in Sebastian County first trained for crisis intervention in early 2018. The training is mandated under Act 423 from the Arkansas Legislature, which requires 20 percent of all law enforcement in the state to eventually be trained.

Parker said crisis intervention training is especially important since the Five West Crisis Stabilization Unit, which diverts the mentally ill in Sebastian County and surrounding areas from jail to treatment, opened in March 2018.

"We have officers who are trained to deal with and assess those people’s issues or concerns and to refer them to places like the CSU for treatment to try to resolve that," said Parker. "It’s a benefit for the citizens; it’s a benefit for the community."

The training is 40 hours long over five days. It is conducted by a law enforcement official and a mental health specialist.

Trainers help the officers taking the course envision what those in mental health episodes may be experiencing, said Fort Smith police officer Cheri Taylor.

"(We) had videos that tried to put you in the mindset of what they may be seeing, what they may be hearing, what they may be feeling, and how we can kind of de-escalate the situation for them. Some things we were taught were how to talk slowly, speak directly to them, try to bring them down," Taylor said.

Parker said he would like to have every patrol officer in the Police Department crisis intervention-trained. CSU Director Joey Potts said this is difficult because patrol officers are often promoted or move to investigations.

On top of that, the Police Department has 164 officers at full strength, including supervisors and detectives.

"It’s going to take some time to get to that point, but we’d like to get as many officers trained as we can," Parker said.

Most of the officers who graduated Wednesday were assigned to the class. When Potts asked at the end of the training if they were glad they attended, almost all of them raised their hands.

But Taylor said officers should seek out the training even if they aren't assigned.

"I would suggest any officer who is afforded the opportunity to take the class do so," said Taylor.