Greg Mullen isn’t shy about setting a high standard of excellence within the Clemson University Police Department (CUPD).

Dwayne Leslie (left) and Chip Wellborn (right) of CUPD interact with a Cooper Library employee in the fall of 2018.

In addition to its commitment to professional development, the Clemson University Police Department has steadily increased its presence on campus. Above, officers Dwayne Leslie (left) and Chip Welborn speak with an employee at Cooper Library.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The way Clemson’s associate vice president for public safety and chief of police sees it, part of his job is ensuring professional development is at the core of his staff’s continuing education.

And that is why he recently told this writer his personal goal is to have 100 percent of his staff take part in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) by the end of the 2019 calendar year. Several members of his team recently went through the five-day, 40-hour class the week of March 25-29.

“We want as many of our people as possible to go through this training by the end of the year,” Mullen said. “We also want those working around our university to be trained, because our students are off campus and often in surrounding jurisdictions. We had people from Clemson, Easley, Greenville and Mauldin join us recently. Many are already doing the training on their own, but we want to offer additional opportunities for those around us.”

The idea behind bringing CIT to the police department is to help law enforcement officers learn how to respond safely and quickly to people with serious mental illness during a crisis situation. Officers learn to recognize the signs of psychiatric distress and how to de-escalate a crisis by identifying symptoms, enforcing active listening skills and police tactics for safe restraint.

This particular CIT class was designed to provide more tools for Mullen’s team of police officers who have been entrusted with the creation of an environment that champions the success and well-being of a large, growing population of students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Sgt. Charles Burks gives instructions prior to the department's active shooter exercise in March.

CUPD has engaged in collaborative efforts across the university. Above, Sgt. Charles Burks provides instruction to several groups prior to the department’s active shooter exercise in March.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“This training teaches officers who encounter someone in a mental or emotional crisis that you can’t handle it like you would under normal circumstances,” he said. “It gives officers a different perspective on how we should handle a variety of situations.”

That variety included learnings about topics such as Alzheimer’s, autism, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, suicide and much more.

Mental illness affects 40 million Americans per year, according to data provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Coordinating the program for NAMI — based out of Columbia, South Carolina — is Sherri Cloud, who previously worked in law enforcement, including 15 years as an instructor at the Criminal Justice Academy.

Cloud said the recent CIT training was the first NAMI has administered to a university law enforcement team. She typically coordinates about 24 week-long trainings over the course of a calendar year, but it was her first trip to Clemson.

“I really appreciate Chief Mullen having us come up to educate his staff,” Cloud said. “We know college campuses are seeing rising numbers related to mental health; we want people to realize we’re out here to help. Our job is to help officers understand the things we do and say really matter.”

Cloud invited several from the local community to help cover some of the above topics. She then spent the last day and a half teaching the principles of de-escalation and tactical safety, before engaging the class in practical role playing. Participants even heard from those who suffer from mental illness and also those who may be affected by it — immediate family members, for example — every day.

“There are things you can say or do to escalate or de-escalate a situation quickly,” Mullen said. “When there is a call for a situation involving someone with a mental illness, an officer can ask dispatch to send a CIT-trained officer. This class was so beneficial because it allowed our staff to see through the lens of people who deal with this on a daily basis.”

Jon Gordon visits with members of Clemson University Police Department during a recent visit to campus.

Noted author and speaker Jon Gordon (front row, second from the left) spent time recently with Chief Greg Mullen (front, left) and CUPD’s command staff discussing the impact of positivity within an organization’s culture.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

CIT wasn’t the only recent professional development opportunity for the police department, however. As part of an ongoing effort to foster team-building within his leadership group, Mullen charged his staff to read “The Power of a Positive Team” by best-selling author and noted speaker Jon Gordon. His expansive list of clients includes the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Pittsburgh Pirates, Campbell Soup, Dell, Publix, Southwest Airlines, BB&T Bank, Northwestern Mutual and more.

Gordon was in town the weekend of April 5-7 for Clemson’s spring football game — he has worked with Dabo Swinney’s team for a few years now — and Mullen was able to arrange time on his schedule to include a Friday stop at CUPD headquarters.

“We were able to get Jon to come over and share leadership thoughts with our command staff, and then the entire department,” Mullen said. “It’s not just thoughts in a book; he uses his tips with other organizations to help improve culture and performance.”

Gordon addressed the department for the better part of 90 minutes, answering questions related to the book and expanding on the importance of positivity within an organization’s culture. His father was also a police officer, so Mullen was happy to coordinate his appearance due to that unique connection.

“We were very honored for him to take the time to meet with us,” Mullen said. “He is highly sought after, so for him to spend time with us was very humbling.”