Scuffle with a 47-year-old combative man sends cop to hospital

A Forest Grove police officer was injured on Christmas afternoon trying to detain a 47-year-old man with a history of psychiatric troubles.

Police said Officer Gary Anderson obtained non-life-threatening injuries during a struggle to detain the unnamed man, who was uninjured during the tussle, in the 2200 block of Laurel Street in Forest Grove.

Police from Forest Grove and Cornelius responded to the man's address along with firefighters around 5 p.m. Dec. 25. Police say the man had a history of being combative with police, and has injured an officer before under similar circumstances.

Police and firefighters are routinely the first to respond to someone in mental distress, and the incident on Christmas isn't one that could be avoided, said Forest Grove Police Capt. Aaron Ashbaugh.

'It's one of those cases where, when somebody's taking their medication, they're fine - and when they go off their medication they're a problem,' Ashbaugh said.

For the past few years, Ashbaugh has worked with Pacific University's School of Professional Psychology to organize a series of Mental Health and Criminal Justice Forums, aimed at bringing together cops, lawyers, doctors and clinicians as well as government officials and caregivers to discuss ways in which the network of services for the mentally ill fail those in crisis.

'In the big picture, we're on the road to making some big overall changes,' Ashbaugh said. 'But there's still some holes in the system.'

The forum has managed to bridge some gaps, however, and crisis teams are now in place in some parts of the metro region to respond to mental crises instead of uniformed police.

In Forest Grove, Ashbaugh said the department hopes to send all its officers to crisis training by the end of the year.

The training, Ashbaugh said, gives officers clear information about different types of mental illnesses and how people suffering from them might respond in a crisis situation.

'You learn the difference between dealing with someone who is manic depressive and has an episode or someone who's schizophrenic and off their medication and having an episode,' Ashbaugh said.

Police aren't the only ones who often find themselves face to face with someone struggling with the effects of a mental illness.

Firefighters are routinely first on the scene when someone calls 9-1-1, and what they find doesn't always match what the caller reports.

'We had a lady for years who would swallow items, razor blades, batteries everything, and that was a frequent 9-1-1 call,' said Forest Grove Fire and Rescue spokesman Dave Nemeyer.

Figuring out how best to negotiate a situation with someone intent on hurting themselves and maintaining the safety of firefighters is a delicate balancing act.

'We know that people are calling 9-1-1 because they're experiencing the worst day of their lives,' Nemeyer said. 'We want to help them, but we want to go home too.'

Nemeyer said firefighters are trained to look for weapons that might be hidden, or things like forks or kitchen knives that can be used to inflict harm.

More perplexing is what to do when firefighters encounter someone who's tried to hurt themselves with household chemicals.

That creates a potentially hazardous scene that requires special care.

But for the most part, crisis situations call for careful negotiation skills.

'It requires a skill set to assess what is going on and try and establish a rapport to figure out how you will resolve each situation,' said Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb.

The skillset needed is a broad and varied one.

'For that short little bit on the scene you're a counselor, you're a mental health provider, you're whatever you need to be to make people safe,' Nemeyer said.

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