UC San Diego announced on January 28 that they would pilot a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). The program is a joint venture between the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the UCSD Police Department (UCPD) with the goal of better addressing mental health crises that occur on campus.
“I think what we’re finding is that we need to listen to other voices and I’m glad people are speaking up because we definitely want to hear them,” UCPD Chief of Police David Rose said during the Transformative Policing webinar. “The PERT concept came about from this problem-solving approach. As far as individualized training, we’re working with [the Office for Equity, Diversion, and Inclusion] to present a series of training to the police department raising our awareness about these issues.”
As part of UCSD’s Transformative Policing Initiative, PERT’s goal is to provide specialized mental health care in situations where previously only campus police were dispatched. Cases like those of Jose Alfredo Castro Gutierrez and Dennis Carolino, who were shot by San Diego police while experiencing mental health crises. Outcry over these killings have galvanized public support for this specialized care. By pairing police officers with psychiatric clinicians, as well as educating officers on how to intervene in and de-escalate such situations, PERT aims to prevent injuries or deaths during mental health emergencies on campus.
“We are grateful for the collaboration and support of San Diego County Behavioral Services in helping us explore a response team option modeled on San Diego County PERT for UC San Diego,” Rose said. San Diego County PERTs consists of specially trained police officers and clinicians who respond to 911 calls involving mental health crises. They are trained over the course of a 40-hour academy, where officers are taught both in the classroom and outdoors about how to recognize and respond to mental health crises.
When asked about how CAPS would be playing a role in the pilot program, Rose said that UCSDPD has worked with CAPS for many years. “CAPS provides training to UC San Diego PD, and together we have developed a protocol where students in crisis who need to be evaluated can be taken by the campus police to a UC San Diego Emergency Department—either the Jacobs Emergency Department or the Hillcrest Emergency Department—as well as the UC San Diego Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (NBMU) at the UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest for acute psychiatric care.”
Students who have experienced such escorting by the police raise some concerns over this new protocol, however.
Tajairi Neuson, a fourth year Muir College student, wrote about how when his friend called CAPS to help Neuson during a mental health crisis, UCPD showed up at their door instead. Neuson explains how the presence of armed police officers can be deeply unsettling to students in crisis.
“I let [the UCPD] in. I sat on my couch trying my best not to panic or make any sudden movements that could lead to me having a bullet in my head,” Neuson wrote in the op-ed. “Maybe this was CAPS’ brilliant idea: replace my depression with anxiety.”
Neuson also argues that the use of police officers to escort students in crisis is likely a symptom of CAPS’s lack of funding.
The student mental health fee, which passed at the start of the 2020 fall quarter, requires undergraduate and graduate students to pay an additional fee for “funding personnel and programming for CAPS” and “supporting the financial aid needs of students,” is evidence of this lack of funding.
“It’s odd to me that UCSD has a blank check for campus expansion, but students basically have to crowdfund our own mental health services. This is why some students don’t think UCSD cares about us,” Neuson said in a statement to The Triton about the CAPS fee.
In light of the Cops Off Campus movement, a movement organized by BIPOC community members across the University of California and California State University which calls for the abolition of campus police departments, many believe that police funding would be better directed towards mental health services and other alternatives to policing.
UCLA has also announced its intentions to respond to mental health-related calls by sending mental health providers instead of campus police.
“UCPD or CAPS responders in the program must be properly trained and culturally competent to address calls from students of color, otherwise these interventions could be harmful,” said Emily Luong, UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council internal vice president.
While there is currently no timeline for when the changes will be made, students at UCLA are already speaking out on concerns about how these mental health providers will be culturally prepared to help students of color. Potential racial bias makes these students especially worried about whether or not the changes will positively impact the BIPOC community.
Bryce Pollack is a staff writer for The Triton.