WUPD to continue responding to mental health crises after deal with outside provider falls through

| News Editor
A man in a blue uniform speaks with a man in a grey shirt in front of a brick building with wooden doorsSkyler Kessler | Student Life

Current interim WUPD Chief Dave Goodwin speaks with sophomore Cory Steinberg in 2014.

The Washington University Police Department will continue to respond to students’ mental health crises despite the University’s announcement last May that it would shift mental health response away from the police.

The University has not publicly announced that its deal with an outside provider fell through nor has it announced any plans for an alternative.

The University’s Public Safety Committee released a report in February that called for mental health professionals to respond to student mental health crises instead of WUPD. The University announced the implementation of that recommendation in May with plans to partner with a community organization to provide a 24/7 on-call mental health crisis program staffed with mental health professionals.

According to Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration and Chief Administrative Officer Shantay Bolton, the University had plans to partner with Behavioral Health Response (BHR), a local non-profit providing mental health crisis support, but the deal fell through after the University and BHR could not come to an agreement.

“[BHR and the University] did sit down and engage in conversation,” said Bolton, who started at the University July 1 and did not oversee the BHR deal negotiations. “However, the business model was not able to be mutually beneficial to both of us, and when we thought about the unique needs of our students in this campus community, we felt that working internally we will be able to provide niche services at a higher level in a better way than going with a partner.”

BHR has its own 24/7 mental health crisis hotline for anyone located in Eastern Missouri that Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling and Resource Center recommends that students use instead of WUPD for mental health crises.

“I don’t want people to think there was something wrong with BHR or something wrong with WashU,” Bolton said. “It’s simply sometimes, when you are looking at a community partner engagement, it’s just not the right fit. We still knew that we could move forward and make sure that the services that we offer were the right level of service in alignment with the specific and distinctive needs of our campus community.”

[Listen to news editor Sydney Crump talk about this story on Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast]

The recommendations from the Public Safety Committee also included establishing a way for the Danforth Campus community to provide feedback on public safety and emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability surrounding public safety on campus.

“Where we’ve been working together and continue to do so is to bring WUPD into our different spaces — in terms of affinity groups and other spaces — for students to see them as support, for students to see them as members of the community in all honesty and to provide more informational sessions about what they do and who they are,” Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs Anna Gonzalez said. 

WUPD has also added traffic and pedestrian stop data to their website in an effort at transparency.

“I’m still working with [WUPD] to think about what other ways and creative ways that we can put data out for the students and our community members to consume it in a way that’s meaningful and easy for folks to understand,” Bolton said. 

Bolton now has plans to create an advisory task force made up of mostly students and some faculty members to help lead her implementation of the Public Safety Committee’s recommendations.

“The truth is there is no one solution to address all of the challenges as you think about mental health and what that looks like in our society right now,” Bolton said. “But I do think if we put our heads together and we come to the table willing to offer up ideas and also willing to listen to one another, we can find ourselves in a great space going forward.”

Undergraduate and graduate students on the advisory task force will have the opportunity to voice their opinions to the administration. Bolton hopes to have the advisory task force, led by herself and Gonzalez, formed by the end of the fall semester. 

“We want to actively work on ways in which we can bring those recommendations to life, but in an inclusive, thoughtful, structured process,” Bolton said. “By having an advisory task force, it allows me to have insight, hear the voice of students and for them to be a partner in shaping our way forward.”

The Public Safety Committee’s recommendations had included survey data that showed that students of color and queer, transgender and nonbinary students have felt far less comfortable than other students in interactions with WUPD. Bolton remained focused on gathering further information on the discomfort of students.

“So when they say discomfort, what does that mean to you? What does that look like and what can we do differently with how we train our officers, how our officers show up, how visible they are and in what ways?” Bolton said. “I want us to have open and candid dialogue. I really want to listen and I want us to think of ways that we can meet at the table. WUPD is a part of our community, like our students, like the faculty and staff. How do we all come together to gain better understanding of each other, but also to have some accountabilities in place so we know what to expect of each other.”

Bolton said that the current implementation of the Public Safety Committee’s recommendations will involve reviewing WUPD’s training on mental health as officers continue to respond to mental health crisis calls. She said that on average WUPD receives two mental health crisis calls per month.

“We’re looking at and reviewing the training that our law enforcement officers undergo,” Bolton said. “We do not want them to become mental health counselors. That is not their role. 

We do want them to be aware of watching for certain behaviors and to have skills to help meet students where they are, should they find them in the midst of a crisis, to facilitate de-escalation in a way that’s supportive to the overall wellness of the student.”

Senior Emily Angstreich, co-director of Uncle Joe’s, told Student Life in September that Uncle Joe’s was “very much behind that and in favor” of mobile crisis units, such as BHR. “So I think if [the deal] could be revived, that’d be great. But I got the impression that it could not be.”

With the deal having fallen through, Angstreich said that “our goal is to make sure that [the administration] does not forget that this is important and that we continue to impress the importance of it on to them.”

 

Kasey Noss and Grace Kennard contributed reporting.

 

Behavioral Health Response (BHR) is a Missouri organization that provides crisis support, telephone counseling and mental health resources. They can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-811-4760.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24/7. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

The Steve Fund, an organization dedicated to the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color, has a 24/7 crisis text line that can be reached by texting STEVE to 741741.

The Trevor Project, a suicide preventation organization for LGBTQIA+ individuals, can be reached by calling 1-866-488-7386, texting START to 678-678 or online at thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/.

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