SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — South Dakota law enforcement officers are spending their work-week in the classroom, building skills to help people going through a mental health crisis. The goal of the training is for officers to de-escalate tense situations and get people the help they need.

Sioux Falls police patrolman Adam Neal spent 20 years in the Marines where he developed an interest in helping people facing mental health problems.

“A lot of similarities to law enforcement: PTSD issues and stuff like that. But then, I started seeing in the community a lot of needs for crisis intervention,” Neal said.

Neal and other South Dakota law enforcement officers are halfway through this 40-hour certification course in crisis intervention.

“I think a lot of our officers are just naturally good at bringing a crisis to a more normal end. But this kind of takes it up a notch,” Crisis Intervention Team co-ordinator Sgt. Tarah Walton said.

Instructors say officers who are certified in crisis intervention greatly reduce the likelihood that a mental health call will turn violent.

“We know that officers that have Crisis Intervention Team training have an 80-percent decrease in injury dealing with call on the street. And that’s not only just mental health calls, crisis calls, that’s talking with someone who’s maybe upset, it’s a family dispute,” Walton said.

Instructors say crisis intervention requires a certain skill set among officers. That includes an ability to listen, and have a strong sense of empathy and respect for the person in crisis.

“You let them know that you’re sorry for them and you’re sorry for what they’re going through and I understand it, and let’s get through this together,” Neal said.

On Thursday, officers will test what they’ve learned during simulations with people role-playing a mental health crisis.

Their coursework ends on Friday.