The excitement has worn off and the newness feels more familiar. School has been in session for several weeks, midterms are approaching and for some university students, it’s the first time they’ve experienced this type of academic pressure while away from close friends and family. When that sense of isolation hits, the CU Boulder Police Department fields more calls spurred by mental health issues.
That’s where Andrea Begin, a licensed professional counselor, comes in. She’s CUPD’s embedded mental health clinician. Officially housed in CU Boulder’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) office, Begin acts as a co-responder, riding along with officers on calls ranging from welfare checks to mental health crises. Her job is to connect students with mental health resources—both within the campus footprint and in the wider Boulder community.
The position started as a part-time telehealth position (with officers using iPads to connect to a clinician, even pre-COVID) and has evolved into a full-time in-person position as of July 2021. It’s part of a new trend in inclusive public safety and referral to resources.
Begin says the ability to direct students to CU’s myriad of mental health resources is a great benefit to the student population
“It feels so good because we do have follow-up services available to students,” Begin said. “It’s not just empty promises.”
Begin also trains new CUPD officers on trauma and resilience, and reinforces the idea that this type of assessment, care and follow-up takes time.
CUPD Commander Mark Heyart says the concept has been embraced wholeheartedly.
“Our officers understand sometimes these are not quick calls. We take the time to engage with students and our clinician,” Heyart said.
Begin says riding along with officers helps them learn to trust each other and work together to keep students safe in evolving situations, no matter how long it takes.
The need for this type of response and referral to resources usually doesn’t take place midday or midweek. After-hours work and weekend shifts are the norm.
“CU is on the cutting edge of mental health care,” Heyart said. “We provide more than an officer responding to a scene and can help students work through crises.”
Begin and Heyart stress that students can rely on police officers and the embedded clinician at any time, day or night, as they are trained to recognize mental health issues and offer real-time support and connection to campus and community resources. When Begin is not on duty, officers continue to collaborate with the CAPS Crisis/Triage team to support students experiencing mental health concerns.
Students can reach CUPD dispatch by calling 303-492-6666, or can simply call 911.