USFPD implements program to assist officers in welfare checks

Officers will now be equipped with tablets that will allow a person going through a mental health crisis the option to speak with a counselor, according to Special Operations Captain of USFPD Martin King. ORACLE PHOTO/CLINTON ENGELBERGER

The TRACE program, an initiative implemented by the USF Police Department (USFPD) to aid officers in handling situations pertaining to mental health, has been utilized five times since its inception at the beginning of the year, according to Special Operations Captain of USFPD Martin King.

Through a partnership between USFPD and the Counseling Center, officers responding to a welfare check will be equipped with tablets to take to the scene, according to King. If the person in need requests to speak with a counselor, King said the officer would reach out to a counselor through the tablet that would be able to speak with the student and provide more insight on the situation.

USFPD is utilizing tablets instead of having a counselor attend the scene in person because it is more cost effective and provides easier accessibility for counselors to help at later hours, according to King. Of the five welfare check deployments that have occurred since the program was implemented, two students declined to use the tablet as an additional resource.

King said the program will help officers to completely assess a welfare check by being able to hear another perspective from trained professionals. Officers were only permitted to baker act those going through a mental crisis prior to the implementation of this initiative.

“The officers go into these situations with a certain level of training, but they’re not licensed clinicians,” he said.

“So this gives us additional insight to where after the conversation of dialogue has taken place, our officers can engage the clinicians into what their assessment is, what they’re seeing maybe that the officers didn’t see. And there’s a collaborative approach to what’s the best course of action for the student during this time.”

Counselors affiliated with the TRACE program will be available from 9 a.m. to midnight. King said an evaluation will be held after 90 days of operation to assess whether the hours should be extended. This decision would depend on factors such as call volume and how the welfare checks are running.

The program, which USF is one of the only Florida universities to implement, is also available on the St. Pete campus, according to King. He said USFPD pays an annual fee of about $10,000 to make this initiative possible for people to utilize.

Although the program is still finding its footing, King said he believes its reach will continue to expand in the future and add more depth to the services USFPD already offers.

“It’s been successful. Just like any program, there’s some bumps along the road to get an understanding of how to utilize the technology the best. But so far, just in the short amount of time, it’s been very successful,” he said.

“I anticipate as the relationship grows and as we get more comfortable with this new initiative, it’s going to be even more successful, providing the university community and the students on campus with additional resources.”