A Day with a Knight — Police Deputy

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Orange County Sheriff’s Office Deputy First Class Autumn (Gill) Chouinard, ’11, poses with Oscar, one of the horses in OCSO’s Mounted Patrol, to which Autumn plans to transition from street patrol once a spot opens up.
Autumn (Gill) Chouinard, ’11 | Deputy First Class, Orange County Sheriff’s Office

By Angie Lewis, ’03

It was 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, just 10 days before Christmas, when Deputy First Class Autumn (Gill) Chouinard, ’11, pulled out of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office police substation on Lake Underhill Road in Orlando, with me riding shotgun. It was my first squad car ride-along, and it began just as I’d hoped — speeding through traffic, lights on and sirens blaring (aka “running code”), to get to our first call.

We were responding to a transient fight in a camp behind a local Winn-Dixie. However, when we arrived, the man who was injured had already left the scene, and, after speaking to a woman who explained the events that led up to the altercation, there was nothing Autumn or the other deputies could do, so everyone went on their way.

It wasn’t quite the outcome I’d expected after our rush to the scene (nobody was arrested?!), but, as the night went on, I would discover anticlimactic endings are pretty typical.

From the transient fight location, we made our way over behind a CVS, where Autumn called a young woman to start a report on her stolen iPad. Once she got all of the information, two other deputies met us at the alleged thief’s home, but no one answered the door. So, the case was put on hold until she could make contact.

We responded to a few more calls — a panhandler at a local Publix, a claim of parental sexual assault at an area middle school, and shoplifters at a nearby Walmart — before we found ourselves back on University Boulevard near campus. As we were chatting more about her job, a young man in a Mazda sedan ran a stop sign right in front of us, so Autumn “lit him up” and pulled him over.

Since the man admitted to his mistake, had all of his appropriate documents and didn’t have any outstanding issues on record, Autumn let him go with a warning, reminding him how many people ride bicycles down the sidewalk on that street, and told him to be more careful.

By then, it was about 8:30 p.m., so we took a break and met a couple of Autumn’s fellow deputies for dinner at a local Panera. We got to hear about some of their cases that evening, as well as stories from previous cases, and I learned how often the police have to “Baker Act” the people they’re responding to help. (The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination by law enforcement, or other authorities, of possible mental illness.)

The other deputies told us about a call they’d had earlier in the evening, during which a young woman refused to put her clothes on after neighbors reported her for public nudity. She even kicked one of the deputies, which prompted them to have her taken in for a mental health evaluation.

We barely finished our meals before a call came through about an 8-month-old boy who nearly lost a finger pulling a game console off an entertainment center. After running code to the house, we found firefighters already on the scene, wrapping the baby’s hand as he sobbed in pain on his crying mother’s lap. Then, paramedics showed up and put him inside the ambulance, where his distraught mom accompanied him for the ride to Arnold Palmer Hospital. Since the incident appeared to be an accident, and everything was under control, we left the scene.

We didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood when a possible burglary call yet again sent us running code through Orange County’s moonlit streets. A mother at home with her kids reported hearing noises that sounded like someone was in their house. When we arrived, Autumn joined several other deputies as they searched the area around the house, which turned out to be fully secured.

Taking advantage of a quiet period, Autumn started tackling the mountain of reports she would have to complete by her shift’s end at 2:30 a.m. So, we pulled into the median on University Boulevard, where she said she can keep a better eye out in case anyone should approach the car.

As she typed up the repetitious lists of stolen items from the Walmart shoplifters’ call earlier that night, I jokingly said, “So, this must be your favorite part of the job?” Her answer, of course, was a sarcastic “Oh, yeah.”

After what seemed like an eternity, watching her type up reports on her laptop, we received a call to respond to a house where a 26-year-old woman was arguing with her elderly parents. When we got there, we learned the parents were angry that the daughter kept turning down the air conditioning. Yep, the police were called to settle an argument about an electric bill.

After the daughter took her kids and left the house for the night, we were pulling away when Autumn got a call to respond to an attempted home invasion and car theft. So, once again, it was lights and sirens all the way! Before pulling up to the location, Autumn turned off her lights to avoid possibly scaring the suspect away, and told me to stay in the car. She was the first deputy on the scene, and quickly jumped out of the patrol car, flashlight in hand, and began searching the area. Within seconds, another deputy joined in the search. After a few minutes, they knocked on the door of the house from which the call came.

It wasn’t long before Autumn came back to the car and told me I could get out. By that time, several other deputies had arrived, and a police helicopter was circling the sky above.

As I observed the situation, it was obvious that the “victim” who called 911 was inebriated. She first claimed a black man had kicked in her door, grabbed her car keys out of her hand, and tried to steal the Mustang that was in the driveway. She said her boyfriend was able to stop him (the boyfriend said that didn’t happen), and explained how she got into a physical altercation with the man, showing some scrapes on her arm.

Paramedics arrived shortly after and tended to the woman’s arm with some peroxide and Band-Aids (you would’ve thought they were cutting off her arm with her over-reactive screaming!). In the meantime, a K9 unit had arrived on scene to help look for the suspect.

However, as the deputies continued to try to get more details about what happened, the woman’s story kept changing — from a black man to a Hispanic man, from the man kicking in the door after she got home to her hearing someone at the door and going to check it out with her car keys in her hand. The whole thing was fishy, and the deputies knew it. So, after a little more questioning by deputies, the woman ended up finding her car keys in her purse. She’d made up the whole scenario and, apparently, gotten into a fight with herself.

So, all of those resources — the deputies on scene, the county’s helicopter in the air, the arrival of the K9 unit and the paramedics showing up to treat some scrapes — were wasted on a drunk woman who’d imagined the whole thing. I asked one of the other deputies if they could arrest her for making the false claim, which cost the county several thousand dollars — but, he told me it really wouldn’t do much good, because they’d never recoup the money anyway.

As Autumn’s shift neared its end, we made a quick stop at the Knights Library on University Boulevard. It was about 1 a.m. on the last day of finals before winter break, so we thought things might be getting a little rowdy. After we pulled up and got out of the car, we walked toward the entrance of the bar, where Autumn spotted one of the bouncers she knows. The two chatted for a few minutes, as he told her there hadn’t had any major issues that evening, then was excited to show her a news clip of one of the bar’s former bouncers who’s now a police deputy in Brevard County. Apparently, his recent chase and arrest had made headlines.

Since all else was calm, we headed back to the substation, where she had to finish the rest of her paperwork — a stark contrast to the way her shift began!

More Info

Did you know that anyone (as long as you pass the background check) can request to go on a ride-along? Contact your local sheriff’s office or police department for more information.

I went through:
Orange County Sheriff’s Office
Sector II Substation – East Orange County
11000 Lake Underhill Road
Orlando, FL 32825
407.254.4800

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Dec. 14, 2015

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Wondering what this pic is all about? Check out No. 5 on our list!

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. For only the second time in its history, all three branches of UCF SGA’s Senate are led by women. The 48th Student Senate’s executive branch is led by Student Body President Cait Zona, the legislative branch is led by Speaker of the Senate Meghan Kircher, and the judicial branch is led by Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca. Congratulations, ladies!
  2. Throughout final exams week, which finally comes to an end tomorrow, the Student Union, Student Academic Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and UCF Police’s Safe Escort Patrol Service have been helping students ease some of the stress that can come with test taking (and the holidays).
  3. UCF chemistry Ph.D. candidate David Nash, ’11, MS14, and his team, which is developing a smartphone-based handheld drug system for law enforcement applications, was selected to further advance their innovation at the national level through the National Science Foundation I-Corps program.
  4. Last week in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott presented the Champion of Service Award to UCF mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Albert Manero, ’12, MSAE14, for his work with Limbitless Solutions.
  5. A group of student-athletes is spreading Christmas cheer with the help of Mariah Carey, some jolly dance moves, and a video that’s making its way around the Internet.

UCF Salutes Veterans

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In honor of Veterans Day, the UCF Alumni Association thanks all of the members of our U.S. Armed Forces — past and present —
for their service, dedication and sacrifice.

Since 2001, 2.7 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly one in 10 returns with post-traumatic stress disorder. Within a year of returning home, three in 10 will be diagnosed.

We’re proud to share some of the great things our alma mater is doing to assist our men and women in uniform, including:

UCF RESTORES Clinical Research Center

As part of the UCF Department of Psychology in the College of Sciences, UCF RESTORES is a clinical research center dedicated to the study of all facets of anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, including etiology, psychopathology, treatment, resilience and prevention.

The following video highlights the remarkable success that the UCF RESTORES clinic is finding in helping veterans master traumatic memories:

Veterans Academic Resource Center

The Veterans Academic Resource Center is a one-stop solution for the needs of student veterans.

The center ensures student veterans access to all available campus resources, provides study space and special tutoring, helps faculty and staff understand these students’ unique needs, and provides them the tools needed to stay on track and complete their degrees.

The VARC has been designated as a center for excellence for veteran-student success. And, since 2011, UCF has been named a “Military-Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs.


A Month of Honor and Remembrance

UCF is honoring veterans all month long, with a commemorative ceremony and other activities, which, so far, have included an open house and student-veteran appreciation lunch at the Veterans Academic Resource Center, a free screening of the documentary “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History,” a flag display on Memory Mall, and a Veterans Day parade at Universal Studios.

Still to come:

  • Saturday, Nov. 14 | Several UCF organizations and departments will participate in the City of Orlando Veterans Day Parade, honoring the men and women of the armed forces. This year’s parade will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
  • Monday, Nov. 16 | Student-veterans are invited to attend Light Up UCF’s Military Appreciation Night. Contact Joshua Johnson at 407.823.5874 for more info.
  • Thursday, Nov. 19 | In gratitude of active military, reserves, veterans and first responders, they can register for complimentary tickets to the UCF vs. East Carolina football game for Military Appreciation Knight, and will also be extended to the UCF vs. USF game on Thursday, Nov. 26. GET TICKETS (Click on the “TICKETS” tab on the top banner, search “UCF Football” and select your seats. GOVX members will receive a complimentary ticket. Up to four additional tickets will be available at $20.)

Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers

A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22, during an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
A therapy dog named Sparky gives some love to Ashley Perez, 18, and Nik Keebler, 22,
during an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

By Jan Hoffman
New York Times

One morning recently, a dozen college students stepped out of the bright sunshine into a dimly lit room at the counseling center here at the University of Central Florida. They appeared to have little in common: undergraduates in flip-flops and nose rings, graduate students in interview-ready attire.

But all were drawn to this drop-in workshop: “Anxiety 101.”

As they sat in a circle, a therapist, Nicole Archer, asked: “When you’re anxious, how does it feel?”

“I have a faster heart rate,” whispered one young woman. “I feel panicky,” said another. Sweating. Ragged breathing. Insomnia.

Causes? Schoolwork, they all replied. Money. Relationships. The more they thought about what they had to do, the students said, the more paralyzed they became.

Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling.

As students finish a college year during which these cases continued to spike, the consensus among therapists is that treating anxiety has become an enormous challenge for campus mental health centers.

Like many college clinics, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida — one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing universities, with roughly 60,000 students — has seen sharp increases in the number of clients: 15.2 percent over last year alone. The center has grown so rapidly that some supply closets have been converted to therapists’ offices.

More students are seeking help partly because the stigma around mental health issues is lessening, noted Stephanie Preston, a counselor at UCF.

Stress kits were distributed at an event at the University of Central Florida's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
Stress kits were distributed at an event at UCF’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
The kits included a stress ball, mints and crayons.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Preston has seen the uptick in anxiety among her student clients. One gets panic attacks merely at the thought of being called upon in class. And anxiety was among a constellation of diagnoses that became life-threatening for another client, Nicholas Graves.

Two years ago, Graves, a stocky cinema studies major in jeans, a T-shirt and Converse sneakers, could scarcely get to class. That involved walking past groups of people and riding a bus — and Graves felt that everyone was staring at him.

He started cutting himself. He was hospitalized twice for psychiatric observation.

After some sessions with Preston, group therapy and medication, Graves, 21, who sat in an office at the center recently describing his harrowing journey, said he has made great progress.

“I’m more focused in school, and I’ve made more friends in my film courses — I found my tribe,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been open about my anxiety and depression. I’m not ashamed anymore.”

Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

Social media is a gnawing, roiling constant. As students see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences, the inevitable comparisons erode their self-esteem. The popular term is “FOMO” — fear of missing out.

And so personal setbacks that might once have become “teachable moments” turn into triggers for a mental health diagnosis.

“Students are seeking treatment, saying, ‘I just got the first C in my life, my whole life just got shattered, I wanted to go to medical school and I can’t cope,’” said Micky Sharma, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors and head of Ohio State University’s counseling center.

NYTimes-counselor
Stephanie Preston, a mental health counselor at UCF, says that more students are seeking help for mental health issues.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

Anxiety is an umbrella term for several disorders, including social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. It can accompany many other diagnoses, such as depression, and it can be persistent and incapacitating.

Students who suffer from this acute manifestation can feel their very real struggles are shrugged off, because anxiety has become so ubiquitous, almost a cliché, on campus.

Alexa, 18, has been treated for an anxiety disorder since middle school, when she was still feeling terrorized by monsters under the bed. She has just finished her freshman year at Queens College in New York.

If she had a severe episode during a test, afterward she would try to explain to her professors what had happened but they would dismiss her. “They’d say, ‘Your mind isn’t focused,’ or ‘That’s just an excuse,’ ” said Alexa, who wrote her college application essay about grappling with the disorder. She asked not to be fully identified for privacy reasons.

More often, anxiety is mild, intermittent or temporary, the manifestation of a student in the grip of a normal developmental issue — learning time management, for example, or how to handle rejection from a sorority.

Mild anxiety is often treatable with early, modest interventions. But to care for rising numbers of severely troubled students, many counseling centers have moved to triage protocols. That means that students with less urgent needs may wait several weeks for first appointments.

“A month into the semester, a student is having panic attacks about coming to class, but the wait list at the counseling center is two to five weeks out. So something the student could recover from quickly might only get worse,” said Ben Locke, associate director of clinical services at Penn State University and the lead author of the Penn State report.

By necessity, most centers can only offer individual therapy on a short-term basis. Preston estimates that about 80 percent of clients at UCF need only limited therapy.

“Students are busting their butts academically, they’re financially strapped, working three jobs,” she said. “There’s nothing diagnosable, but sometimes they just need a place to express their distress.”

Even with 30 therapists, the center at UCF must find other ways to reach more students — especially the ones who suffer, smoldering, but don’t seek help.

Like many college counseling centers, UCF has designed a variety of daily workshops and therapy groups that implicitly and explicitly address anxiety, depression and their triggers. Next fall the center will test a new app for treating anxiety with a seven-module cognitive behavioral program, accessible through a student’s phone and augmented with brief video conferences with a therapist.

It also offers semester-long, 90-minute weekly therapy groups, such as “Keeping Calm and in Control,” “Mindfulness for Depression” and “Building Social Confidence” — for students struggling with social anxiety.

The therapists have to be prepared to manage students who present a wide array of challenges. “You never know who is going to walk in,” said Karen Hofmann, the center’s director. “Someone going through a divorce. Mourning the death of a parent. Managing a bipolar disorder. Or they’re transgender and need a letter for hormone therapy.”

Indeed, Locke and his colleagues at Penn State, who have tracked campus counseling centers nationwide for six years, have documented a trend that other studies have noted: Students are arriving with ever more severe mental-health issues.

Half of clients at mental health centers in their most recent report had already had some form of counseling before college. One-third have taken psychiatric medication. One quarter have self-injured.

The fundamental goal of campus counseling centers is to help students complete their education. According to federal statistics, just 59 percent of students who matriculated at four year colleges in 2006 graduated within six years.

Studies have repeatedly emphasized the nexus between mental health and academic success. In a survey this year at Ohio State’s center, just over half of the student clients said that counseling was instrumental in helping them remain in school.

Anxiety-ridden students list schoolwork as their chief stressor. UCF’s center and after-hours hotline are busiest when midterm and final exams loom. That’s when the center runs what has become its most popular event: “Paws-a-tively Stress Free.”

The other afternoon, just before finals week, students, tired and apprehensive, trickled into the center. The majority were not clients.

NYTimes-Bodhi
Students gathered around a therapy dog during an event at UCF.
(Photo: Douglas Bovitt, New York Times)

At a tent outside, their greeter was the center’s mascot and irresistible magnet: a 14-pound Havanese, a certified therapy dog whom many clients ask to hold during individual sessions, stroking his silky white coat to alleviate anxiety.

“Bodhi!” they called, as he trotted over, welcoming them to his turf with a friendly sniff.

For the next two hours, some 75 students visited the center, sitting on floors for a heavy petting session with therapy dogs.

They laughed at the dogs’ antics and rubbed their bellies. They remarked on how nice it was to get a study break.

On the way out, the students were handed a smoothie and a “stress kit,” which included a mandala, crayons, markers, stress balls and “Smarties” candy.

Also tucked into the kit was a card with information about how to contact the center, should they ever need something more.

This article appeared in a May 27, 2015, edition of the New York Times online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with UCF Alumni Association and AP style guidelines. See original story.

More Info

UCF Center for Counseling and Psychological Services

Mission: Mental Health for Veterans

Workshop targets trauma issues experienced by members of the military

Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) with School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) and veterans who participated in the workshop
Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) and School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) gathered with veterans who participated in the Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders workshop at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
Veterans Reintegration Workshop | COHPA Alumni Chapter

By Karen Guin

United States Army Col. Jeffrey Yarvis drew from decades of experience in military social work to describe the challenges faced by returning veterans during an information-packed and deeply personnel presentation at UCF.

Yarvis is a decorated officer, a published scholar with a doctorate and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He currently serves as chief of the Department of Social Work at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.

Approximately 75 military veterans, students, and social work alumni and practitioners gathered to hear him speak at the “Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders” workshop offered Nov. 6 by the School of Social Work and College of Health and Public Affairs Alumni Chapter.

Yarvis shared data and statistics on U.S. veteran populations, and he showed video clips to illustrate changes in attitudes toward soldiers who are traumatized or grieving. He spoke extensively about the impact of war-related stress on veterans and their families.

“About 80 percent of returning veterans will exhibit some changes in behavior,” Yarvis said. “Those who are deployed more than once have a greater chance of a clinical diagnosis.”

Some returning veterans experience symptoms commonly associated with traumatic stress, such as fear, anxiety, grief, depression and sleep disturbance. A smaller number exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may include physical symptoms and always includes these symptoms: 1) re-experiencing trauma, such as nightmares and flashbacks; 2) avoidance, such as feelings of numbness and detachment; and 3) arousal, such as anger and hypervigilance.

“These are very complex issues for mental health care givers to negotiate,” Yarvis said. “It’s hard to quantitate these symptoms, and they manifest themselves differently in different people.”

Yarvis described his own behavioral changes when he returned home from deployment. He exhibited risky and aberrant behavior, became easily frustrated, and turned to alcohol to deal with his insomnia. Several participants said they found his candidness quite helpful.

“He spoke your language,” said UCF student Lyndon Ortiz, a senior in social work and U.S. Marines veteran who served in Iraq until he was injured.

Yarvis is encouraged to see military social work coming into its own as a profession. “I love that UCF has a military program,” he said, referring to UCF’s Graduate Certificate in Military Social Work program, which prepares master’s degree-level social workers to help veterans and their families.

Social work senior Kristopher Vite plans to enroll in the program while pursuing his master’s degree in social work at UCF. He is a U.S. Army veteran, and like Ortiz he served in Iraq until he was injured. Both Vite and Ortiz aim to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers so they can work with veterans like themselves.

U.S. Air Force veteran and UCF alumnus Charlie Antoni (B.S.W., ’95) is already on the front lines, working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and palliative care coordinator for the Orlando VA Medical Center. He is educating local physicians and nurses, and he is developing networks of community support that he will help place at the new VA hospital in Lake Nona.

Also on the front lines is U.S. Army veteran Richard Whitten, who works as a peer-support specialist at the Daytona Beach Vet Center. “A lot of the homeless vets I meet have PTSD symptoms, but it’s hard to convince them to come in for help,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot today that I can take back with me.”

Yarvis concluded his nearly three-hour presentation by commending the participants. “What you are doing is incredibly important,” he said. “You are helping veterans grieve and return to their lives.”