Helena sets standard for sensory training

FROM STAFF REPORTS / Editorial 

With a man in the middle of a local highway appearing to be in some form of psychiatric episode, the responding Helena Police officers didn’t panic—they were trained for the moment.

Many departments may have arrived on the scene unsure of how to deescalate the situation, but the HPD planned ahead for moments exactly like this one through a program known as KultureCity.

A Birmingham-based nonprofit, KultureCity is dedicated to sensory awareness and inclusion for people with invisible disabilities such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Helena Police Department used its training from KultureCity on June 12 when they responded to the call of an individual in a roadway.

That training ended up saving a life.

Many responding units may have not understood exactly how to deescalate a situation like that, which could have made it a fatal interaction.

But HPD quickly ruled out the individual being intoxicated from alcohol or drugs and made a swift determination that he was having some form of sensory issue.

Using their training, which each of the 34 officers and 90 employees throughout the city has, the responding officers were able to calm the individual.

That prevented him from injuring himself or someone in the public and it helped prevent officers from being involved in a police-related shooting.

It’s just one way the department is building for the future to make interactions between themselves and the public go smoothly, while also building a better relationship with the community.

After the training was complete, HPD received sensory bags that were placed in each police vehicle and in city hall. Those bags contain items such as noise-canceling headphones, fidget spinners and nonverbal communication cards.

Each is something that can help communicate with someone who typically struggles to convey their message.

Helena became the first city in the U.S. to have 100-percent sensory-inclusive training according to Chief Brad Flynn.

It’s something he and the department wanted to instill because of the likelihood that they’ll get a call on an individual with some form of sensory condition.

In the past, those situations across the country may have resulted in a fatal ending.

Since KultureCity began, however, it has already prevented four police-involved shootings in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the program was developed, and now has possibly prevented one in Helena.

Helena took the initiative to make a difference and it has swiftly paid off; now, we encourage each police department in the county and across the country to follow suit.

It is an easy process that will save lives each year, and you never know when it might be needed.