York County has more than 100 trained mental health crisis negotiators

YORK, Pa. -- A deadly shootout with an elderly man police say was known to have mental health issues raises questions of how law enforcement handles those situations.

More than 100 York County officers have crisis intervention training to deal with people living with mental illness.

Pennsylvania state police said they have mental health crisis negotiators, but that they didn't have any time to use one before the man opened fire on troopers at Monday's shooting in Hopewell Township.

A cry for help often leads to a call to 911.

NAMI York family-to-family instructor Tony Bachman said "when the officers came to our home, it was a very hard thing for me as a person, to see my wife being taken away by an officer when she hadn't committed a crime."

York County was one of the first counties in central Pennsylvania to offer crisis intervention team training or CIT to police, rescue crews, and other trained personnel to help those living with mental illness.

Northeastern Regional police chief Bryan Rizzo said "if you can at least validate what their problem is, and acknowledge what the issue is, and validate their feelings, sometimes you can get a rapport with them to understand what's going on, why are they in crisis."

"Mental illness is one of the few diseases that a person can really bring injury to themselves or to a loved one. So, when they are in that situation, that is a very critical time," Bachman said.

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating what led a 79-year old York County man to make a threatening call to 911 and then open fire on state troopers when they got to his Hopewell Township house. Police say Robert Becker who died in the shootout was known to have mental health issues.

"When there's weapons involved or there's someone who is unpredictable, someone who does have mental illness, you don't know what's going to happen, so it's a very stressful situation for everyone involved," Rizzo said.

Some may wonder why a man police say with known mental health problems, and had made prior threats wasn't committed.

York County Mental Health administrator Steve Warren said "they have to be things like inflicting or attempting to inflict serious bodily harm on someone else, attempts at suicide, just plain threats don't meet the criteria under the mental health laws."

Contacting a county crisis intervention team can help a loved one get the help they need, as well as diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.

"The goal is to get them to focus on you, listen to what your saying, and get them to a level where you can actually communicate with them. Once you do that, it doesn't take long to get that person to start to cooperate," Rizzo said.

York County will conduct its latest crisis intervention team training session for officials next week.