ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a first for the police department at the University of Central Florida: a full-time, in-house mental health counselor to assist officers when they’re dealing with students in crisis.
Delaney Kirwin, a mental health clinician and licensed clinical social worker, was hired by the police department in part because of her prior experience with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in its Behavior Response Unit.
[TRENDING: JAWS: Large alligator soaks up sun, surf on Florida beach | Old Sugar Mill Pancake House opens in De Leon Springs State Park | VOTE: Help Amanda Castro choose costume for baby’s 1st Halloween | Become a News 6 Insider]
Mental health counselors don’t go to school to learn how to ride around with a police officer responding to calls, so when a counselor joins a police department for that purpose there is a learning curve.
But Kirwin already learned what it’s like in her 2 years at the sheriff’s office.
“That experience provided me with a framework of how law enforcement responds to mental health calls,” Kirwin said.
Kirwin said clinicians working alongside police is the future of law enforcement.
“Having this collaboration with mental health, it’s not in any way taking away from the importance of what law enforcement does, it’s very much working together and helping each other and being a resource,” Kirwin said.
Kirwin accompanies UCF’s Threat Management Team — detectives who identify “persons of concerns,” students who are at risk of harming someone or themselves.
[RELATED: UCF detectives stop ‘actual violence from occurring’]
And Kirwin calls those students and checks on them.
“So for the longest time, someone who is having a mental health episode or crisis, their first thought is okay I need help, who do I call for help is 911, and when you call 911, it’s an officer who comes out,” Kirwin said. “And they’re trying to handle the situation the best they can, but they don’t have the specific years of training when it comes to mental health, specifically working with individuals in crisis.”
Often the people in crisis calling 911 don’t need law enforcement.
[RELATED: How to get mental health help in Central Florida]
“Absolutely because they’re thinking I’m in trouble, am I criminal, is this a crime, I’ m having this first episode or having these negative thoughts, why is a police officer here,” Kirwin said.
Already in her few short months at UCF PD, Kirwin has been sent out on dozens of calls for help. She is reaching out to as many as 20 students at UCF every single week.
“Seeing somebody show up who’s going to be thinking solely about their mental health care, I think it’s been putting the students at ease and so far it’s been a positive reaction,” Kirwin said.
Every officer at UCF PD goes through 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training and yearly refresher CIT courses. The plan is for Kirwin to eventually become part of that training, helping teach it with her mental health background.
UCF wants you to know that if you or someone you know is in crisis, there are several services to help you in every way possible, including the Counseling and Psychological Center (CAPS) on campus.
Students are encouraged to contact Student Care Services which would start with a needs-assessment to figure out how to help.