Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer
A student movement called No Policing in Mental Health wants VCU to replace police officers with mental health clinicians when doing wellness checks on students.
The police department has officers trained in crisis intervention and routinely conducts wellness checks on students, according to a police spokesperson. The checks happen when a family member, staff member or friend contacts the police with concerns about their whereabouts or behavior.
But members of the group say police officers can make students with mental illnesses, especially students of color, feel unsafe and may cause more harm than good.
No Policing in Mental Health held its first meeting March 21 in the Academic Learning Commons. Most students who attended participated in the discussion, saying they came to help students of color as well as get involved in campus life.
Sophomore Sabah Munshi led the meeting. She said the current procedure for wellness checks involves police officers arriving to check on students, which can make them feel “very intimidated.”
“When I was a freshman last year, I saw a lot of things [at VCU] that I wanted to change,” Munshi said. “The idea [for this movement] started over the summer of 2018 and really kicked off this semester.”
Munshi has worked with Virginia Student Power Network to organize the movement. The group, which was present at the March 22 Board of Visitors meeting, had its second meeting March 27 to go over advocacy strategies.
“I feel like cops don’t have the training they need to do a whole evaluation on a person,” Munshi said. “I think that clinicians should be doing this.”
Angelica Cradle, a sophomore who attended the meeting, said she has seen some students react negatively to the movement when the group was tabling on campus.
“I think people are appalled that we are trying to change policing, because the cops are seen as a beacon of public safety,” Cradle said. “It’s always difficult trying to convince a person with privilege about [a person of color’s] experience with the police.”
The group recently met with Student Affairs and University Counseling staff. A police spokesperson said the department is considering some of the group’s suggestions.
Munshi said during the meeting that members of the administration cited safety concerns as a reason for having health professionals conduct wellness checks instead of police officers.
“The wellness checks right now are putting many students in danger, Munshi said. “Many cops are not being held accountable for their actions, especially with respect to their treatment of people of color.”
Munshi said the parties will continue their discussion on April 25.
News Editor Fadel Allassan contributed to this report
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