Phoenix Police officers get training about traumatic brain injuries

Sep 19, 2018, 4:46 PM | Updated: 5:20 pm

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department and the Barrow Neurological Institute teamed up to teach officers how to identify and better communicate with people who have traumatic brain injuries.

Ashley Bridwell, a social worker with Barrow, said one of the goals of the program “is to ensure that officers have a successful interaction with an individual with a traumatic brain injury.”

She said these individuals can come off as being noncompliant or not respecting authority when encountering police.

“Often times, it’s a result of an individual with traumatic brain injury having difficulty following instructions, having difficulty reading verbal cues and nonverbal cues, and having difficulty with the chaos of a scene,” she said. “All of these things potentially can lead to an unsuccessful interaction.”

She said combat veterans, the homeless and domestic violence victims are among those who experience traumatic brain injuries.

“Educating the Phoenix Police Department on traumatic brain injuries specifically with those populations we feel like it’s going to increase successful interactions and hopefully deescalate potentially problematic interactions between the two communities,” Bridwell said.

The first-of-its-kind program was established last year after Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams called for training on mental health awareness for all new officers. It includes a presentation by Bridwell about the signs of a traumatic brain injury and mental health issues.

It also includes testimony from people, like Adam Pepiton, who have traumatic brain injuries. Pepiton, who uses a wheelchair and is rehabilitating at Barrow, got his injury after being shot in the head during a drive-by shooting eight years ago.

He said that in his presentation to officers, he goes over issues he and others with traumatic brain injuries go through. That includes short-term memory issues, trouble concentrating and needing more time to understand and follow directions.

“We’re doing this for the police officers to get a better understanding for the brain injury community,” Pepiton said.

Sabrina Taylor, a member of the Phoenix Police Department’s crisis intervention squad, said hearing from Pepiton and others with traumatic brain injuries helps officers develop empathy.

She added that officers also learn what types of events can cause a traumatic brain injury and some of the symptoms they may see.

“People who have a traumatic brain injury often suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and physical disabilities,” Taylor said. “They could also look cognitively normal but have this impairment that surprises people.”

So far, about 170 new Phoenix officers have gone through the program.

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Phoenix Police officers get training about traumatic brain injuries