The Janesville Police Department has won an Innovative Program Award for its efforts to recognize and respond properly to people who are struggling with mental illnesses.

The award from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group recognizes the department’s Mental Health Awareness Flag program, which debuted last year.

The program identifies people who suffer from mental illnesses with a flag on their records. The visual reminder helps officers respond appropriately “while maximizing safety for the individual, the officer and the community,” according to a police department news release.

Officers Craig Klementz and Alexander Erlien developed the flag program with input from Rock County law enforcement agencies, the district attorney’s office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The program has since been adopted by all of the county’s law enforcement agencies, according to the release.

“When you think about it, if you’ve established a relationship with somebody, it’s going to be different dealing with them than it is a stranger,” Milton Police Chief Scott Marquardt told The Gazette last year. “It’s because you know more about them.”

After the program debuted, Janesville police Lt. Mike Blaser told The Gazette that people with mental illnesses have expressed their thanks.

“Eliminating the stigmatization that you can’t be treated for mental health is a big part of that,” Blaser said. “Like, thanks for not stigmatizing my condition or treating me like a thing, but treating me like a person who is just dealing with a problem.”

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