University of Virginia's Michael Gibson Named 'Police Chief of the Year'

November 07, 2008

November 10, 2008 — University Police Chief Michael A. Gibson has been named Police Chief of the Year by the National Alliance on Mental Illness' Crisis Intervention Team, a national organization assisting police officers in defusing difficult situations, particularly with the mentally ill.

The University Police Department has participated in the Crisis Intervention Team program since 2005 and worked closely with police departments in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County as they adopted it.

"I was very honored and surprised," Gibson said.

Using the Crisis Intervention Team model, which originated in Memphis, police departments train personnel on ways of handling agitated and mentally ill subjects before a situation escalates.

Gibson said police officers can also employ these skills in routine work. "This helps police engage anybody."

In presenting the award to Gibson Wednesday at the Crisis Intervention Team's national convention in Atlanta, the national organization cited his dedication to the program. He matched grant funds with departmental money for training, and the University Police Department has since met all of its training goals, including having 55 percent of its officers certified in Crisis Intervention Team training.

"This is multifaceted training for police officers to recognize and deal with someone with a mental illness and safely navigate through the encounter," Gibson said. "Police now have one more tool. This does not make us mental health experts, but it gives the officers the skills to engage people in such a way as to get the right kind of help and use the right type of resources."

Thomas von Hemert, coordinator for the Thomas Jefferson Area Crisis Intervention Team program, which works with police departments from the University, city and county, called Gibson "an exceptional police chief."

"He recognizes that CIT is more then just training — that it provides safety for his officers, safety for our community and safety for the people in crisis who need to be kept safe," said von Hemert, one of several of people who nominated Gibson for the award.

Gibson was also cited for supporting a custody exchange among local police departments, by which Charlottesville and Albemarle police departments can bring a person to the U.Va. Medical Center emergency room for an evaluation and turn custody of that individual over the University Police, who will monitor the patient until a psychological assessment has been made.

"It's our facility and this frees the other officers to go back their patrols," Gibson said.

Gibson was also honored by the organization for his enthusiasm for the program.

"I really wanted to do it and I thought the University Police Department could lead the way," he said. "I have a can-do attitude and a desire to get us going and be successful."

— By Matt Kelly