The CalMHSA Los Angeles College Consortium partnered with the California Community College Student Mental Health Program to implement needed violence prevention efforts which offer safe and secure learning environments and opportunities for student wellness. Over the course of the Grant Project period the Los Angeles Consortium developed and hosted two major violence prevention events and participated in several State sponsored trainings which supported violence prevention and student wellness. State sponsored presenters included experts from National violence prevention vendors such as SIGMA and NABITA. SIGMA was able to provide basic violence prevention training and assisted the Los Angeles Community College District with the formation of its Behavioral Intervention Teams throughout its nine college system. To date, the Teams are up and running on all nine campuses. NABITA was able to provide more advanced violence prevention training with functional Behavioral Intervention Team management approaches. The CalMHSA Los Angeles Consortium Violence Prevention events included presenters from the FBI, other law enforcement entities, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Emergency Outreach Bureau, Non-violent Communication experts, students, and college mental health program experts.
Campus violence has dramatically increased over the past twenty years. The violence has taken many forms including campus shooter incidents such as Virginia Tech, bullying, sexual assault, violent crime associated with some form of criminal activity, victimization of LGBTQ students, alcohol/drug induced incidents, stalking and domestic violence, suicidal behavior etc. The L.A. College Consortium has advocated that individual campus approaches to violence prevention should be multidimensional with targeted efforts that address the full spectrum of violence on campus. Prevention and Preparedness were the cornerstones of the Project’s Violence Prevention efforts. L.A. Consortium leaders have taken an active role in decision making on their campuses through participation in violence prevention/campus safety advisory committees.
Students in emotional distress need to be routinely identified and referred to a mental health professional and students who are just “acting out” should be referred to the campus disciplinarian. Many times students referred to campus disciplinarians are referred back to mental health professionals for treatment or participation in student success workshops such as anger management or non-violent communication skills.
Thus, the discipline track and mental health track should frequently intersect as we work to keep our campuses safe.
It is important to realize that most people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition are NOT violent or dangerous. Thus, it would be unfair to label someone as violent just because they have a mental health condition. Research indicates that less than 3% of all violence committed in the United States was perpetrated by someone with a mental health disorder. People with mental health challenges are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators. It should be noted that more than 25% of people with mental health disorders report being victims of a violent crime on an annual basis. This rate is nearly 12 times higher than that of the general population.
Preparedness is essential
Creating an emergency preparedness and crisis response plan for each college will help keep our campuses safe. Core elements of the plan should include:
• Institutional Prevention efforts that are anchored in a culture of respect and reward for help seeking behavior.
• Crisis Response Team and Threat Assessment Team formation that meets on an ongoing basis with specific roles and responsibilities.
• Faculty/staff training on how to perform behavioral assessments to determine if a student is in emotional crisis, is responding to a real-life crisis situation or is being disruptive is foundational to keeping our campuses safe and our students healthy.
• Policies and procedures which define intervention procedures and threat assessment guidelines with marketing plan to effectively inform the campus community about correct protocol.
• Open confidential communication channels for students, families, faculty, staff and the community to report threats or suspicious behavior to avert potential violence and acts of self harm.
• Streamlined communication policies and procedures for optimal contact with emergency services, law enforcement, and response to media inquiries.
• College safety assessments to detect potential vulnerabilities and unsafe facility conditions.
• Development of Memorandum of Understanding with community agencies which details the procedures and levels of community support to be
provided on a day-to-day basis and emergency basis.
• Command post protocols with linkages to emergency services and law enforcement.
• Availability of Post-venation Services to support recovery after a crisis: protocols for assisting all of those affected by the crisis, procedures for using community-based mental health resources (including Employe e Assistance Programs), availability of post-crisis healing activities such as faculty, staff and student counseling, integration of recovery curriculum in classroom lesson planning, etc.
• Ongoing drills with sensitivity and awareness training to reinforce appropriate understanding of intervention protocols and handling of emergency situations to safeguard the campus from future acts of violence.
• Development of a faculty/staff crisis intervention guide for help and healing during times of crisis with website posting for easy access.