by Yiyun Tom Guan
The Tufts University Police Department is in the process of creating a multidisciplinary working group to advise TUPD on issues of mental health, and Tufts Community Union Class of 2021 Senator Annika Witt is working with TUPD to add a student to the group.
According to the Interim Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Chip Coletta, the working group will be formed byAssistant Director of Public Safety Mary McCauley, who will also act as a liaison between the working group and University President Anthony Monaco's Steering Committee on Mental Health.
Coletta explained that the mental health working group’s creation came in accordance with recommendations presented by Tufts’ Working Group on Public Safety and Policing, which was formed last July as one of the five “Tufts as an Anti-Racist Institution” workstreams. It released its report in February, in an email from Monaco to the Tufts community.
Among other recommendations, the Working Group on Public Safety and Policing workstream report suggested that TUPD increase its use of mental health professionals in either an in-person or on-call capacity, noting that there is a clear need for a greater availability of mental health resources.
“The number of service calls involving mental health matters is significant and has been steadily increasing over the last decade,” the report said. “The number of service calls involving mental health matters has demonstrated the need for dedicated mental health professionals or other highly trained staff who can provide in-person crisis-management and support, particularly at night or on weekends.”
Coletta noted that the working group is seeking input and consultation from various departments at Tufts and Tufts students, as well as other law enforcement partners.
“McCauley is seeking input from internal and external stakeholders, including the Department of Public Safety (DPS), Tufts University Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Dean of Students Office, and students who have expressed an interest in participating in this important work,” Coletta wrote in an email to the Daily. “Additionally, we are consulting with our law enforcement partners in Medford and Somerville, other campus law enforcement agencies, and subject matter experts, as we evaluate options to increase the DPS mental health response capacity and effectiveness.”
Witt, a senior, noted the absence of mental health professionals within TUPD to respond to the increasing number of mental health-related calls they receive.
“Right now there’s no mental health … professionals in TUPD, so TUPD is just dealing with all of those calls, which [are] increasing in volume,” Witt said. “For college students, mental health calls are going to be the biggest part of that job, and I think they finally realized or are coming to that realization that officers can sometimes escalate the situation when it's really meant to be a safety precaution."
Witt explained that while she will spearhead the collaboration with McCauley to add a student to the mental health working group, she will also be working closely with community senators to ensure that marginalized voices are heard.
“I am in close communication with [the community senators] because I think … this mental health committee needs to be aware of marginalized communities that are mostly affected by TUPD’s behaviors," Witt said. "So I really just want to focus and center it around those communities."
Witt noted that she had posted on Facebook in search of a student to join the working group and that she would like this student to be a person of color.
“I posted it on Facebook to see which students are interested. There was a lot of responses, so now I'm talking to Mary [McCauley] about how to narrow that down and how to kind of sort through them,” Witt said. “I really want a [person of color] member — a member of our student body that recognizes the incredible need for these conversations to be centered around marginalized communities.”
Witt anticipates that the mental health working group will be active over the long term. She said progressive changes in policing happen gradually.
“Transitioning from this traditional policing system to a very progressive system is going to take time, and students on our campus are very passionate and aggressive in what they want to see and they want to see it now," Witt said. "But it takes time, and so this perfect and progressive TUPD is not going to happen overnight."
She added that she thinks the role of the board will be fluid and hopes it will continue to improve over time.
"This is just going to be, I think, an acting, long-term committee, in which it continuously evaluates the effectiveness of mental health professionals working alongside TUPD officers,” Witt said.
Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, applauded TUPD and TCU Senate’s effort and acknowledged the urgency of their initiative.
“This work is very important as the university examines how to best respond to the needs of its community members, including the potential of Involving mental health professionals in certain response situations,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “We look forward to the information the group gathers from the stakeholders it plans to engage and to the group’s recommendations.”
Photo by Sophie Dolan / The Tufts Daily Archives