Rise in Baker Acts photo

The number of Baker Act cases on campus has been increasing this year, according to the UCF Police Department. A member of Chief Carl Metzger's advisory council suggested posting signs with mental health resources on top of parking garages in the fall. 

The UCF Police Department is seeing an increasing number of students in crisis this year.

“We are literally talking students off the top of parking garages who want to take their own lives, which is heartbreaking,” UCF Police Chief Carl Metzger said in a February public safety town hall.

Amanda Sellers, UCF Police Department public information officer, said in an email that the department has received more calls from the tops of parking garages in recent years, and the number of Baker Act cases on campus has been rising since students returned to campus in 2021.

UCF’s Baker Act numbers declined precipitously during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UCFPD’s video. Twenty-seven students were Baker acted in 2020, the lowest number since 2010.

Numbers have since been rising, but this year’s total is still projected to be lower than pre-pandemic totals.

Twenty-six individuals have been Baker acted through April 2022, more than half of last year’s total number of Baker Acts, but 2019 numbers are still set to exceed 2022's, with 87 individuals Baker acted that year. Baker Acts hit a peak in 2017 with 118 students evaluated, almost one every three days.

Andrea DeWitt, admissions specialist at the University Behavioral Center, said the Baker Act is a Florida law that allows mental health professionals to evaluate individuals who meet certain criteria.

“The Baker Act is a statute that says that anyone who is a danger to themselves or others can be involuntarily placed in a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours,” she said.

Sellers said the UCFPD usually sees more Baker Acts toward the end of the semester when final exams week approaches.

“Most of these are attributed to students being stressed about finals or not passing a class,” she said.

A person can be Baker acted if they present any immediate danger to themselves or others, DeWitt said. Common indicators include suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, self-harming behavior, psychosis and the inability to care for oneself.

She also said Baker Acts can be initiated by both law enforcement and licensed mental health professionals. She said that whether an individual meets the criteria is up to that person’s clinical discretion.

Charlotte Melton, vice president of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, said suicide is the second leading cause of death in the nation for 11 to 24-year-olds.

“Baker-Act-receiving facilities are like ERs for our minds,” she said.

According to the Mental Health Association's You are a Lifeguard campaign, 12 in every 100,000 young adults ages 20-24 die by suicide each year.

Jocelyn Buhain, associate director of Clinical Services at UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services, said there were fewer Baker Acts on campus during the pandemic because students were isolating at home.

"We believe the predominant reason is because fewer individuals were on UCF’s property,” Buhain said. “During the pandemic, we just had fewer numbers of people overall physically on UCF’s campus."

However, when students returned to campus in 2021 and 2022, Buhain said CAPS saw a surge of students wanting to utilize mental health resources.

“Compared to last year, we are definitely seeing more students want counseling, more students needing counseling,” Buhain said.

During final exams week, she said the number of students utilizing CAPS services does not necessarily increase, but there is typically a higher percentage of students experiencing more urgent academic concerns.

Buhain said she hopes students will continue to access the resources available through CAPS. She said she believes helping students find the mental health resources they need is the best way to prevent Baker Acts, which could account for why this year’s numbers on campus have been lower than before the pandemic.

“Baker Acts are sort of a last resort,” Buhain said. “I don’t think it’s ever something a clinician wants to do, but if there’s no other options to best help this person, then we kind of use Baker Acts as a last resort.”

Buhain said that UCFPD works closely with CAPS to ensure that students in crisis are taken care of. She said officers will sometimes escort students straight to CAPS to get counseling.

Metzger said officers are given annual crisis intervention training courses that prepare them to interact with students in crisis.

“We’re saving lives with our training and the way we go about our business, and we’re very proud of the way we do that,” he said.

A widely shared video tweeted by the UCF Police Department shows the emotional body camera footage of an officer saving a student from jumping off a parking garage.

After watching the footage, a member of Metzger’s student advisory council suggested posting signs with mental health resources on the tops of parking garages. The signs say, “you matter,” and they list several hotlines students can call, including UCFPD and the national suicide prevention lifeline.

“Our top focus area is mental health,” Metzger said. “And we’re passionate about taking care of our students.”

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