Tragic headlines across the country demonstrate the scope of mental health concerns and highlight the need for additional resources to train first responders in identifying and managing incidents involving individuals experiencing mental health crisis.
A new grant will help the Clemson University Police Department (CUPD) at a time when they have prioritized training and education for its officers to manage incidents involving mental health elements effectively and safely. In 2022, CUPD and its partners requested funding through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) FY22 Connect and Protect: Law Enforcement Behavioral Response Program grant to create a community law enforcement – mental health collaborative strategy to improve responses and connections for people with mental health and co-occurring disorders.
Recently, the Department learned that it received $549,991 to implement an evidence-based co-responder model to identify and reduce risk of harm to individuals with mental health disorders. The grant, in partnership with Clemson’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, Counseling and Psychological Services, SC Department of Mental Health, and support from surrounding law enforcement partners will allow CUPD to develop a co-responder team comprised of certified mental health clinicians embedded in CUPD with specially trained mental health response police officers to create two co-responder teams.
The co-responder teams will be available for immediate response to situations involving mental health, co-occurring disorders, and emotional crisis to begin direct intervention strategies and connect individuals to appropriate resources.
“This is the next step in CUPD staying on the cutting edge of mental health response and providing exceptional service to our students, staff, faculty, and community,” said Captain Christopher Harrington, who serves as principal investigator for the grant.
The program will be evaluated and assessed to provide empirical feedback for program improvements and share outcome findings to the law enforcement and scientific communities to enhance response protocols to enhance safety, reduce risk and prevent harm for those suffering from mental health disorder, the community and first responders.
This new grant builds on the work from a 2019 BJA grant in which CUPD and Clemson’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice worked to create a response strategy to address the growing concerns surrounding mental health and co-occurring disorders.
The funding provided by that grant enabled over 90 percent of CUPD officers to receive certifications in Crisis Intervention Training and/or Mental Health First Aid. These courses provided officers with specific skills in identifying mental health indicators, developing response protocols, de-escalation techniques and alternative methods to arrest. It also provided opportunities for other agency members throughout the Pickens/Anderson/Oconee region to receive certifications.
These courses combined with other nationally recognized programs – Integrated Communication, Assessment, and Tactics and Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement – provided officers with advanced knowledge to assist them make appropriate decisions when dealing with individuals in mental health crisis as opposed to criminal behavior.
CUPD desires to remain on the leading edge of this evolving public health crisis. We recognize the importance of early recognition and intervention to assist individuals coping with issues relating to mental health, substance abuse and emotional trauma.
CUPD’s goal is to provide the best possible response and immediate resources to help minimize the impacts of mental and emotional distress and improve public safety while diverting non-criminal individuals away from the criminal justice system.