The Albuquerque Police Department is teaching its officers how to better interact with people with mental illness.

The department says it’s ahead of the curve when it comes to this work, called Crisis Intervention Training.

“Albuquerque does more mental health training than almost any department in the country,” APD Director of Behavioral Sciences Nils Rosenbaum said.

Every APD officer is required to take 40 hours of CIT in the classroom and practice through scenarios.

It helps them learn about mental illness and to better communicate with people living with it, like Mitchell Rockwood, a developmentally disabled man who KRQE News 13 has reported has had dozens of encounters with APD over the last two decades.

“His paranoia with the police- he’ll call 911 and tell them he’s going to come down and smash out their windows,” Rockwood’s mother Cynthia Manthey told KRQE News 13 in October.

It’s one of many situations APD trains for.

“We want it to be as realistic as possible. That’s why we hire actual actors. We show them actual lapel videos, we review cases and identify that this is realistic and that it’s not stigmatizing,” APD Detective Matthew Tinney said. “It could be a call for service that is related to domestic violence, a disturbance at a gas station or someone thinking of killing themselves.”

It is a unique training in that classes are taught, in part, by community providers like Healthcare for the Homeless and UNM personnel who work with people with mental illness often.

The courses have been around for years, but now have new installments for updated training and techniques.

It’s a requirement APD has to maintain following the Department of Justice’s investigation into the police department’s use of force practices.

“We did state in the settlement agreement that we will continue this course, and in fact that we require all uniformed officers to attend this course,” Det. Tinney added.

Rosenbaum said the department has had great success with the training.

“We’re working with the community much better- the community of providers, people living with mental illness and families and advocates. Those bonds have gotten much much stronger over the years, and I think the actual interactions are getting much better,” he said.

APD also offers voluntary advanced mental health training. APD said about 40 percent of field officers have gone through that additional work.