College campuses of all sizes are at risk of violence, but optimizing prevention tools might be the most successful way of counteracting those threats. Consider the all-inclusive assessment team first organized by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) in 2015 as a response to an increasing number of mass violence incidents on campuses and public places. With college campuses slowly returning to normalcy, the LACSD’s accomplishments are a model for other proactive schools eager to prioritize safety and mental health support.
During a podcast with Campus Safety editor-in-chief Robin Hattersley, LACSD captain Rodrick Armalin, former lieutenant Donald Mueller, now police chief at Cerritos College, and deputy sheriff Elias Vasquez discussed the in-house Higher Education Assessment (HEAT) Team Program, the first in the nation of its kind.
“We really wanted to try and do something above and beyond the level of training we are currently doing. Most of us do active shooter response training. We want to try and come up with an additional step, how we can prevent it in the first place,” Mueller said. If steps could be taken to “prevent the incidents from ever happening, we would save a whole lot more lives than just only response.”
The Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the country, encompasses 140,000 students on nine campuses spread out over 800 square miles, and 180 members of the LACSD are responsible for providing the vast area’s law enforcement and safety services. To bolster this presence, the bureau teamed up with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, which provided two psychologists, free of charge, to support the HEAT team. Additionally, two LACSD deputies underwent mental health training.
By providing direct services, whether it be therapy, rehab to at-risk students, and assessing the threats of students, faculty, and staff who spark concerns of potential violence or self-harm, the goal is to identify those individuals with mental health issues, said Mueller, “prior to reaching a breaking point.”
A version of this article was originally published by Campus Safety.