Temple police, social work students to partner on mental health calls

Temple wants the program to begin operating within the year.

When answering mental health class on campus police will bring a masters of social work student with them. | EARL KUFEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University’s Police Department and the College of Public Health and School of Social Work are developing a partnership between officers and Master of Social Work students to respond to mental health calls in TUPD’s patrol zone.  

Jennifer Ibrahim, interim dean of CPH and SSW, aims to have MSW students involved in the partnership accompany officers to mental health-related calls to counsel individuals in crisis to understand what triggered an episode. Additionally, Ibrahim believes a trained MSW student would be a more comforting presence in times of crisis than a police officer. 

“That’s not fair to Temple police to ask them to do that because they’re not trained to do that and that’s why we’re trying to bring together both,” Ibrahim said. 

Jennifer Griffin, vice president of public safety, wants to increase mental health training among officers. Currently, 78 percent of all Temple police officers and supervisors have received Crisis Intervention Training, while MSW students are actively gaining trauma-informed social work and clinical experience in North Philadelphia or throughout the region through their field work. 

Police officers mishandling mental health crises is a systemic issue across the United States.  

Philip McCallion, director of SSW, believes that the solution to officers’ handling of mental health calls requires a collaborative approach from the university.  

“This is something that we’re looking at across the country as an issue that each of us has a different skill set that we bring,” McCallion said. 

Since 2015, more than 1,600 people with a mental illness have been shot and killed by police in the United States, according to a database from The Washington Post.  

Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police in West Philadelphia during a mental health crisis in October 2020. Claude Fain, a 47-year-old Black man was shot and killed in an apartment in Frankford in January 2020.  

Griffin, Ibrahim and McCallion started discussing the early stages of the partnership during homecoming weekend, but plan to meet again in the near future, McCallion said. Griffin wants the program to begin operating within a year, but the timeline for the project depends on the length of researching and formulating procedures needed to create a workflow for responding to calls.  

“If there are issues of food insecurity, if there are issues of housing insecurity, if there are other factors that are coming into play, having Temple police transport a student to [Temple University Hospital, Episcopal Campus] for assessment, that’s not what the student needs at that moment,” Ibrahim said.   

The university hopes to draw inspiration from current university and city models including SEPTA’s Serving a Vulnerable Entity program, which was introduced in November 2020, and paired mental health professionals with their police force.  

Temple’s mental health and wellness task force and violence reduction task force are also studying the overlap between violence, trauma and mental health. Additionally, McCallion participated in preliminary discussions for the University at Albany’s partnership between their campus police and social work students before he left the university roughly five years ago.  

Ibrahim hopes that this new initiative will help destigmatize mental health issues on campus. 

“Destigmatizing someone who has mental health issues is something that’s really important and I think this is a way that we can do it and we can be more caring in our responses,” Ibrahim said. 

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