The Davidson College Campus Police Department has joined a select number of North Carolina law enforcement agencies to have 100 percent of its full-time officers complete the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, an innovative program designed for first responders.
"We need to employ better methods of responding to people with mental illness," said Chief of Police Todd Sigler, citing a recent report by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center that estimates that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police.
One in five jail and prison inmates lives with mental illness, according to NAMI. Police are often the first responders to individuals in psychiatric distress, and the CIT program aims to provide them with the knowledge and training to handle mental health crisis situations safely and compassionately.
The 40-hour training emphasizes the knowledge and skills law enforcement need to de-escalate persons in crisis and the ways in which officers can steer individuals toward treatment rather than jail.
The CIT model was launched 25 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. According to NAMI, following establishment of the Memphis program, injuries to police officers responding to mental health calls dropped 80 percent. Despite the overwhelmingly positive results of CIT training, only 15 percent of law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide have adopted the program.
The college environment differs in many ways from the world beyond its borders–but mental health issues respect no boundaries.
More than 30 percent of students responding to a 2012 survey by the American College Health Association reported feeling "so depressed that it was difficult to function" over a 12-month period. During the same period, nearly 50 percent of students "felt overwhelming anxiety." Yet only 11 percent of the surveyed students had been diagnosed or treated for depression, and only 12 percent had been diagnosed or treated for anxiety. Symptoms of other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, often emerge for the first time when individuals reach college age.
"College communities are often a reflection of society in general. It is important for our officers to understand how to assist anyone suffering from a mental illness so that we verbally de-escalate situations in an attempt to prevent persons from causing harm to themselves, or others, and assist with directing these individuals to services better equipped to help them," Sigler said.
Davidson's officers are required to attend a range of ongoing technical and special professional development trainings on topics including public safety leadership, fair and impartial policing and campus violence prevention, to name a few.
"We seek to build a relationship of trust and respect between our officers and the campus community we are privileged to serve," Sigler noted. "Our most important goal is to help our students feel safe at Davidson College so they can concentrate on having a successful college experience."