The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Campus Police Department wants the Memphis Medical District to know it is here to keep not only the campus safe, but the surrounding medical district community.
“We want everyone to know that we want to be a part of the community,” said Anthony Berryhill, chief of Campus Police at UTHSC. “And we want the community to realize that they can call us and depend on us.”
As part of increasing its visibility, UTHSC Campus Police is working jointly with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC), a development organization creating vital connections and partnerships to strengthen the Memphis Medical District.
UTHSC Campus Police meets with the MMDC once a month to discuss current and future events and to discuss needs of the stakeholders in the organization. Currently, there are nine anchor institutions, including UTHSC, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Baptist College of Health Sciences, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Regional One Health, Southern College of Optometry, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Southwest Tennessee Community College.
“The end result in all of this is that we want everyone to know that UTHSC Campus Police is growing and that they can call us in the event that they have a situation that requires police attention,” Chief Berryhill said.
He said his department has already begun seeing partner institutions reaching out for assistance. “The Memphis VA Hospital, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Regional One, banks in the area, they call us now before the Memphis Police Department. They know our response time is 1 minute or less, because we are already right here.”
UTHSC Campus Police officers have all the rights and privileges of the MPD and participate in annual certifications, in which commissioned officers complete a 40-hour, weeklong training to maintain state certification as police officers.
Training takes place with the Memphis Police Academy, with which the UTHSC Campus Police Department has built a solid relationship. Chief Berryhill, who joined UTHSC in 2016, retired from the MPD, after more than 30 years with the department.
“I elected to send them to the Memphis Police Academy, because it’s more in-depth, more involved, and it also gives our officers an opportunity to build stronger relationships by going to training with Memphis police officers, as well as other campus police from the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College,” Chief Berryhill said.
In 2017, a majority of UTHSC Campus Police officers also began being trained in crisis intervention. This means that through training, they become certified to deal with security issues triggered by mental illness.
“This training has helped me to be able to respond to the people with mental illness in the Medical District since we are in the vicinity of the Memphis Mental Health Institute and the Memphis Crisis Center,” said Sergeant Tekisha Scruggs, a crisis intervention team officer. “There are a lot of people with mental illness that frequent this area and a lot of homeless people as well, this training has allowed me to be able to deal with them personally on a one on one basis, deescalate some of the issues they are having, and I know where to transport them and how to get them help.”
The 40-hour certification takes police officers into mental health care facilities, where they see how people with different mental health illnesses react in certain situations.
“Our officers learn the verbal skills and how to read the body language of individuals,” Chief Berryhill said. “If we get a call from a local hospital that tells us, ‘Hey, we have a mentally ill person out here on the street who may be wielding a knife,’ UTHSC Campus Police is going to call a crisis intervention officer to respond, who will then begin dialogue to try to disarm that person without having to use any type of physical force.”
In addition to the training, the university has begun $20 million in security upgrades, including a $2 million renovation of an unused building at 807 Jefferson Avenue, which will become the new Campus Police headquarters. New patrol vehicles, additional surveillance cameras, and wireless building entry are also included in the upgrades. In 2016, there were 300 cameras on campus, a number that has now grown to 1,100. Keyless entry to buildings have also been installed, which will allow exterior doors to have automatic lockdown capabilities in the event of an active threat.
Patrol vehicles have also seen improvements, and Chief Berryhill said the ‘new fleet on the street’ has updated branding on the exteriors to be easily identifiable as UTHSC Campus Police patrol cars. Three new vehicles have been equipped with secured patrol rifles. Patrol rifles are deployed to address any active threat that may occur.
Another top priority is pedestrian safety. The UTHSC Campus Police Department secures 40 buildings, equal to 4.5 million square feet, on roughly 55 acres in the Medical District, and the department wants to ensure pedestrians feel safe on the streets. Crosswalk lights and traffic signs have recently been installed on Hospital Avenue and Madison, in front of the UTHSC College of Pharmacy building. UTHSC Campus Police also has officers on site during rush hour to ensure pedestrian safety, as needed, and recently Campus Police started using handheld radar guns to slow down the speed of traffic around campus.
“The work and improvements we are making are a huge undertaking, but when it’s all said and done, it’s for the safety and concern for everyone on campus,” Chief Berryhill said. “Everyone should be more comfortable about their level of safety.”