I spent five years training police not to shoot peers in mental health crisis. During this time, I learned a few parts of police training that work against peers in crisis.

I’ll start by instructing NEVER TALK TO POLICE WHEN YOU’RE IN CRISIS. Let’s explore this part of police training.

Perhaps not realized, the job of police is – in part – to collect data and information for the district attorney to use as evidence in a potential criminal action against you. When in crisis you might be saying things that you wouldn’t otherwise say when not symptomatic. This doesn’t make a great amount of difference. What you say is what you say and usually is taken literally.

Further, police will state “This is YOUR opportunity to explain your side” and many peers will believe they can “clear their name” by talking with police. It’s not an opportunity FOR YOU. It’s an opportunity to collect evidence AGAINST YOU.

And if you ask “Do I need a lawyer?” police are trained to reply “Do you think you need a lawyer? You only need a lawyer if you did something wrong.” Many peers will talk thinking they must defend themselves in order to not appear guilty. Again, when symptomatic we say things we otherwise wouldn’t.

And asking “Do I need a lawyer?” is NOT the same as stating “I want a lawyer.” Police want you to talk and provide data and information for the district attorney. Stating “I want a lawyer” ends questioning when police are ethical.

With talking to police, a final advisement is recognizing and understanding police are trained to ask an open ended questions and then stay silent. Human reflex is to want to fill that silence. There’s a reason it’s called an “uncomfortable silence.” Don’t fill the silence.

All said, beyond following ORDERS and answering ONLY “YES” OR “NO” questions, to preserve your SAFETY it is ALWAYS best NOT to talk to police when in mental health crisis.

I’ll admit I feel I failed peers and our community in developing police training, recruiting peers to help with police training, and presenting very emotionally difficult personal stories with the hope police better understand what it’s like for us engaging with police. The results are less than I hoped for and the lingering feeling is I could have done more.

Peers sharing personal stories so police feel safe when engaging peers in mental health crisis was not effective in every way needed.

As it happens, though, I can do more for peers in crisis when engaging with police. Because I continue to value above all else safety for peers, I’ve come up with an education program for peers to help keep themselves safe when engaging with police.

Just as I trained police to understand what we might be thinking while in crisis, peers will benefit from understanding what police might be thinking based on their training. And, peers will benefit from understanding why police are behaving as they are, based upon their training.


There is much we as peers can do for ourselves to deescalate a police engagement and there is much we can do to keep ourselves safe when a police engagement is deteriorating.

And ultimately, when we as peers can deescalate the police in crisis situations, outcomes are successful and safe for both peers and police. Police who feel safe are less likely to do something harmful to peers.


In the coming months Stand Up To Stigma will be offering FREE community trainings in our education program titled “How Not To Get Shot.” We’re working with peers in many states and on three continents developing this crucial peer education training. We’ll be reaching out to police departments and offering an opportunity for police collaboration as well.

You can sign up for our STS Community Beacon to receive email notifications. And you can watch our websites for up to date information.

As always, Stigma Is Temporary. Best of mental health to you.

Steve Bringe
Stand Up To Stigma