Tech police officer uses CIT training on campus

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Officer Nicole Quesenberry

Nicole Quesenberry, an officer with the Virginia Tech Police Department’s Residence Life Resource Unit, openly admits to having a “Type A” personality – something that she says is common among law enforcement personnel.

“A lot of times we want to jump in, take care of the situation at hand as quickly as possible and move on to the next call,” explained Quesenberry, whose husband happens to be a deputy sheriff in Pulaski County. “That’s just the way most of us are wired.”

Early into her law enforcement career, Quesenberry was given the opportunity to attend the week-long officer training provided by the New River Valley Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The CIT training helps equip officers with the tools they need to appropriately respond to individuals who may be experiencing a psychiatric crisis. Although it wasn’t a requirement that she attend, Quesenberry recalled that she was eager to be involved with the CIT program.

“With all of the tragedies that we’ve had happen on campus and in the community over the last few years, I knew it was important to learn more about mental health,” Quesenberry said. “And, too, stress is such a big part of what I see students struggling with when I go out on calls. I just felt like the CIT training would help me better serve my community.”

The training did not disappoint, according to Quesenberry. In fact, she was quick to note that participating in CIT has helped her gain a better understanding of the young people she’s responsible for protecting.

“It can be tough for some of them – especially at the beginning of the school year when they’re away from home, in a new place and the workload overwhelms them,” added Quesenberry. “It’s a difficult transition and for students who have a history of abuse or trauma. The stress of college life often compounds those issues and they sometimes get to a point that they have no hope.”

“Students also tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Quesenberry continued. “They have a fear of disappointing their parents or becoming a ‘failure’.”

A member of the Tech police department since 2010, Quesenberry went on to say that she can personally relate to students who are being impacted by stress because she’s experienced some of those same issues.

“I’ve shared with some of the students that I saw a counselor back when I was going to grad school,” declared Quesenberry. “I was trying to work full-time, go to school…trying to do it all, basically – the ‘Type A’ thing again. I was spiraling out of control and I needed help. And, I can say without a doubt, that counseling played a huge role in getting me back on track.”

Quesenberry said another benefit to being CIT trained is having access to the nearby assessment center at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, also in Blacksburg.

“If they have the potential to harm themselves and we need to do an emergency custody order (ECO), it’s incredibly helpful to have a facility that’s close by where we can take them and make sure they will be safe,” Quesenberry added. “It cuts down on the time we have to be tied up and allows us to get back to doing our job.”

Quesenberry remarked that she would like to see the CIT eventually offer “refresher” training opportunities for officers who have already been through the program and hopes more officers will make a point to become CIT trained.

“The thing that I’ve probably learned the most from CIT is that you can’t lump everyone into a ‘typical mental health call’,” stated Quesenberry. “Each person has his or her own story, their own triggers, and their own experiences. If you let them talk, you can usually find a way to work things out and get them the help they need.”

“A lot of times, students – or people in general – just want someone to talk to,” said Quesenberry. “So, you have to be willing to build a rapport and take a little more extra time with them. And above all, let them know that you are coming from a place of help.”