Administrators detail campus police involvement in wellness checks

By Cecilia Leyva, Mar. 15, 2022

In a recent letter to the editor published by The Poly Post, Christina Gonzales, vice president of Student Affairs, addressed an opinion piece by student Renee Walker, a staff writer for The Poly Post, recounting her firsthand experience with the university’s mental health services.

In the letter, Gonzales assured readers of Cal Poly Pomona’s commitment to the mental health of students through programs and organizations such as the Behavioral Intervention Team, the upcoming CARE Center for students, Counseling and Psychological Services and the University Police Department.

Walker’s opinion piece alleged that as part of a CAPS wellness check, she was handcuffed by university police officers and placed on a 72-hour hold in a nearby psychiatric hospital, without communication to her family.

Gonzales acknowledged prior handling of student wellness checks saying, “So in learning some of the histories of things that have happened to students, especially in 2018 and 2019, there seemed to be a lot of things going on, on campus.” Gonzales did not elaborate further, citing privacy concerns and saying the matter was out of her supervision.

Alongside Dean of Students Jonathan Grady, Gonzales aims to modify existing programs like the Behavioral Intervention Team, which handles student wellness checks, to better students’ well-being through a holistic approach.

The BIT is currently undergoing an external review.

“I think one of the things we’re looking for in the midst of this review is really reimagining some new ways of doing and being,” said Grady. “Reviewing our policies, procedures, and really giving some great suggestions from people who do this work at a local and national level.”

As it stands, the university’s intervention team becomes involved when it receives a report, usually through CAPS, of troubling behavior.

“Currently, any member of our community, if they are concerned about the well-being of a student, staff, faculty member and community members, they are able to submit a Broncos Care form,” Grady explained. “Then there is a team of staff that review the form, reach out to the student to provide support.”

Based upon the review of the form, a person’s wellness check can end up on the University Police Department’s radar. If the case manager believes there is an increased level of risk to the individual or others, they will contact dispatchers from the police department.

Interim Chief of Police Erik Munzenmaier detailed the process of officer involvement after a call for a wellness check is received. An officer certified by California’s Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, receives the call from an organization like CAPS, is provided the information, determines what resources they believe the person may need, inputs the notes into their system and sends officers to conduct the check.

“It is really not my place to say how CAPS, or any citizen, calls us” Munzenmaier said. “The officers get sent, and even though they have all this information on the person and on our policy, they are supposed to go in with a fresh start.”

If the officers feel the individual or they themselves are in danger, according to Cal Poly Pomona Police Department Policy manual Policy 302, the individual can be detained.

Munzenmaier cited the State of California Code Section 5150 reading, “When determining whether to take a person into custody, officers are not limited to determining the person is in imminent danger and shall consider reasonably available information.”

“No matter what, this is what has to qualify if they (officers) are going to take them for a 72-hour treatment and evaluation,” said Munzenmaier.

The course of treatment for the reported individual falls on the officers who respond to the call. Munzenmaier acknowledged despite the basic training POST requires, officers have not received de-escalation training. “The decision we make is really to get this person the proper help that they need. We’re not trained psychologists or clinicians and that’s where we have to take them to what they would call a mental health facility,” said Munzenmaier.

If it is decided the student is not in imminent danger, Munzenmaier stated they are referred to additional services.

“If they are a student, faculty member or a staff member, Building 46 (Health Services) has services,” said Munzenmaier. “We have CAPS, the Behavioral Intervention Team — there are many services available.”

Both Gonzales and Grady agreed CAPS should not always be the first step in receiving assistance.

“Jonathan and I have found that on campus, people are told to either call CAPS or the police,” said Gonzales. “Actually, neither of those should be, or don’t have to be, the first contact because not everyone needs a counselor and not every problem needs counseling.”

Grady is currently overseeing the creation of the CARE center on campus to be introduced to students in the fall. “We’ve been embarking on a series of listening sessions in the fall; we had individual interviews as well as focus groups with students to hear from them directly to know what their ideas are and what are their needs,” said Grady.

The goal for the CARE center according to Grady, is to create a “one-stop shop” for students who are in need of assistance and resources. Students’ ideas under consideration include, nap pods, meditations, virtual yoga, relaxation stations, pop-up food pantries and well-being coaching.

“The vision is working with students to create this (CARE Center). The first part of it will be ready by August, and then over time, we’ll start to build out the larger vision,” stated Grady.

Featured image by Silas Hood

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