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New training aims to better prepare UTSA PD for mental health response

New training aims to better prepare UTSA PD for mental health response

SEPTEMBER 8, 2021 — With the start of the new semester, the UTSA Police Department wants to ensure it is supporting the mental health needs of all students.

UTSA PD and the UTSA Department of Counseling are teaming up to provide even more tools to campus police officers who respond to calls for issues related to mental health.

“Our behavioral team has seen a very big increase in cases over the past year, especially with the pandemic,” UTSA Police Captain Thomas Calucci said. “We knew that with the community returning to campus, and with some of the things that we have seen nationwide, I really felt that this year is going to be unprecedented in terms of the number of calls we receive for a mental health type of response.”

“We see this form of collaboration as a way to share our expertise and support the needs of the community and the police department.”

The two departments are developing a mental health/crisis intervention training for campus police officers, which will dive into several topics, including crisis intervention, communication skills, identifying serious mental illness and symptoms, accessing suicidal and homicidal intent, as well as coordinating mental health services.

“The Department of Counseling is very excited by the opportunity to partner with the police department and to be a part of this really important initiative,” said Thelma Duffey, chair of the UTSA College of Education and Human Development’s counseling department. “We see this form of collaboration as a way to share our expertise and support the needs of the community and the police department.”

Several professors from the Department of Counseling have volunteered to help lead the training, Duffey said.

“One of our goals is to support the community and the police officers in navigating high-risk situations,” she said. “We’d like to educate law enforcement on mental health and crisis risk management, so they’re better equipped to serve our student population.”

This new partnership demonstrates UTSA’s commitment to the wellbeing of each member of the campus community, which includes establishing programs that will contribute to the overall wellness of all Roadrunners. It also connects to the Department of Counseling’s larger mission of preparing multiculturally competent professionals who demonstrate the necessary counseling knowledge, skills and competencies to enrich the quality of peoples’ lives.

“College students have been especially vulnerable during the pandemic. Some are isolated, and many are having to adjust to life far different from what they expected it to be,” Duffey said. “We’re hoping the officers leave the training with a better understanding of the wellbeing issues that people face in general, and deepen their understanding of the particular needs of the college student.”

Calucci added that he hopes the officers who participate in the training will get a deeper understanding of mental illness.

“Our patrol officers may get called for a disturbance or welfare check, and it's only then that the true nature of the call really becomes evident. Sometimes with these types of calls, we don't know they’re mental health calls until we get to the scene,” Calucci said. “That’s why I want to have our officers go through this advanced training. They need to be able to quickly change gears.”

Learn more about the UTSA Department of Counseling.

The UTSA police officers have multiple roles on campus, including being the campus’ first responders. UTSA PD responds to calls 24 hours a day.

“We recognize that officers are called to respond to critical situations with a moment’s notice, and they are called to do so while wearing multiple hats,” Duffey said. “In many ways, our officers are often first-line mental health responders. We’re hoping this training will help them better understand the difficult mental health dynamics that exist and provide them with some tools to support our university population.”

Valerie Bustamante

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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