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Everyone Should Be Safe - UC Santa Cruz Mobile Crisis Response Team

by John Malkin
Interview about the University of California Santa Cruz Mobile Crisis Response Team offering a non-police response for mental health crises with director MaryJan Murphy and supervisor, Beth Chiarelli.
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by John Malkin

The UCSC Campus Mobile Crisis Team (CMCT) is the first of its kind on a University of California campus. The CMCT provides an empathetic, non-police response to emergency calls regarding mental health crises on campus. Following a series of police killings in the U.S. - including the choking of George Floyd in May, 2020 - worldwide protests called for the expansion of non-police crisis teams for community safety. Some cities and college campuses responded, including UCSC. The CMCT was implemented in June, 2022 and in April, 2023 their hours were extended after hiring two additional staff.

The UC Santa Cruz CMCT is based on CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) in Eugene, Oregon that has provided a non-police response to mental health crises since 1989. The CMCT is an extension of UCSC Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), directed by MaryJan Murphy. The Team has four intervention specialists and a supervisor, Beth Chiarelli, who has been a social worker for thirty years.

The Team is funded by the Chancellor's office and a Justice Intervention Services grant from the California Department of Corrections. Two CMCT vans are available to transport students but the team does not offer emergency support for physical injuries.

The UCSC Campus Mobile Crisis Team is available Mondays and Tuesdays 2:00PM to midnight and Wednesday through Sunday 12:00 noon to midnight. Contact the CMCT at 831-502-9988 or In South Santa Cruz County MERTY (Mobile Emergency Response Team for Youth) provides non-police crisis support for people twenty-one years old and younger, Monday-Friday, 8AM to 5PM. Call 800-952-2335.


JM: I'm grateful that the Mobile Crisis Response team is operating at UCSC. I think it’s the first on a UC campus.

MaryJan Murphy: We were the first to get it implemented of all the UCs. This is a nationwide effort because it's really important to have a non-police response to mental health issues. That's what the whole goal of this program was, and to provide a culturally-responsive and trauma-informed response to mental health services on a college campus. Without a police response. That was definitely the key.

Beth Chiarelli: A lot of cities and counties across the nation are responding with non-police mobile crisis teams.


JM: Please describe what the UCSC Campus Mobile Crisis Team (CMCT) offers.

Beth Chiarelli: We may get a call where somebody is concerned about a student, and we go out anywhere on campus and see what's going on. We assess the situation and most of the time it's anxiety or panic attacks. Typically, we can help the student calm down to where they can get back into their bodies, into their minds, and then go on with their evening. For some, maybe this was a new experience. For other’s it's not. We're able to link them to CAPS for the future, because oftentimes this is a symptom of something else going on.

MaryJan Murphy: The Team can get students connected with CAPS or their advisor. Or maybe they’re having difficulty with housing and we get them hooked up with our Basic Needs Office on campus. It's also a way for students who may not choose to walk in the door to CAPS to get help. A lot of students are using CAPS, but there's still mental health stigma. So, it could be that a student would feel more comfortable talking to the team out in the field.


JM: What experience and tools do the intervention specialists bring to calls for help?

Beth Chiarelli: Sometimes the person in crisis calls us, and sometimes other people call. Some people don't know we’re coming so it takes a certain skill set to be able to walk into that situation and say, “I’m here to make sure you're safe. And that we're all safe. What can we do for you?” It's active listening and being empathetic. It's going into somebody's space as an observer and respecting and honoring that. We respond to between twenty and thirty calls a month.

JM: Do you respond to calls off campus?

MaryJan Murphy: The only two places we go off campus are the University Housing Town Center, which is on Pacific, and the Coastal Campus. We are clearly campus-based.

JM: Santa Cruz law enforcement have killed people experiencing mental health crises. Sean Arlt was killed in 2016 while agitated and holding a rake and 15-year-old Luke Smith was killed a month later, cornered alone holding a knife. In recent years there have been discussions of how to start a non-police response team like CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) which has been successful in Eugene, Oregon since 1989.

MaryJan Murphy: We actually modeled the UCSC team after CAHOOTS. We had a consultant on our team early on who developed CAHOOTS. The CAHOOTS model has been really important for us.


MaryJan Murphy: Our Crisis Team has no uniforms or guns or anything that could be very scary for students. Beth, maybe you could talk about the jackets?

Beth Chiarelli: We had a large logo on the back of our sweatshirts that said “Campus Mobile Crisis Team.” So, when we walked around campus, it just looked a little like, “Oh, here they come.” So, we took that off, because we don't want to look like we have a uniform. We want to blend in a bit more, but also want to have some differentiation so that when we do show up people know, “We're here for safety.” We don't have an agenda. We want everybody to be safe. We want the students involved in the crisis to be safe, not just the one having the crisis, but the ones that are around them. We're hoping that it's going to go the best way that it can possibly go. It usually does.

JM: I've heard from CAHOOTS staff they've never harmed anyone and none of their specialists have been harmed.

Beth Chiarelli: It's all in the approach, literally how you show up. And those first few minutes are crucial. Because it can go really bad, or really well. Once people know we're there to help them they relax. Our end goal is never, “If this goes bad, we're going to arrest you.” Never. Because we don't have that capacity. So, right off the bat, it takes that off the table. There are situations where we may need to call the police, but we don't ever want that to happen.

MaryJan Murphy: The goal of the CMCT is very focused on safety, support and mental health. Police have a much larger charge, I guess you would say. And we don't include all those charges in our goals. We offer a non-police response.

This interview was originally broadcast on KZSC 88.1 FM / and published in the Santa Cruz Good Times on April. 10, 2024.
by John Malkin
UCSC Mobile Crisis Response Team - 831-502-9988
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