Counseling alumna pioneers partnership between law enforcement and mental health professionals
When mental health professional and City University of Seattle alumna Susie Kroll walks into work, some days it’s into a traditional clinic and other days it’s into a potentially violent situation.
Kroll is a trained hostage negotiator and in crisis situations co-responds with law enforcement officers through five police departments: the King County Sheriff’s Office in Kenmore and Shoreline, Bothell Police Department, Kirkland Police Department and Lake Forest Park Police Department.
“Not a lot of people who go into counseling think they’ll be going into a building where someone is shooting or has a knife,” Kroll, a graduate of the master’s in counseling program, said. “In the mayhem, crisis and disasters, I get super-focused and very calm and can be the voice for others when they don’t have it for themselves.”
By working as a team, she and law enforcement officers and deputies are able to deliver better service and support to those they’re seeking to aid.
“Having the ability to co-respond with law enforcement to the point where we can see how our skill sets match is rewarding,” Kroll said. “I am not a trained police officer, and they’re not licensed mental health professionals, but we bring those two skill sets together to keep the crisis where it is or deescalate it. They can inform on law and assess safety situations, and I can hear officers say, ‘we are glad you’re here,’ and I feel comfortable walking in safely. We take care of the person and see the partnership work so fluidly.”
Dealing with critical situations is a challenge, but it is one Kroll is uniquely equipped to handle.
“I went in to counseling knowing that I had a high threshold for trauma and violence, and I got those types of clients in my internships,” Kroll said. “When someone came in violent, angry, homicidal or suicidal, I realized that I was the person who would go in and deescalate and want to help.”
She first discovered this valuable skill set through volunteering with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“I could hear really horrible things that people have had to recover from, and it didn’t [mentally] mess with me and I didn’t take it home,” Kroll said. “To work with people facing these types of crises is tough, and we need folks that can do that.”
She is currently the only mental health professional who co-responds with officers through the five police departments that she partners with because her position is grant funded.
“I’m part of the RADAR program – Response Awareness De-Escalation and Referral – that is how I cover five departments,” Kroll said. “It’s a pilot program funded by the Department of Justice to integrate mental health professional into crisis calls.”
Kroll is hoping that communities will see the program’s value so that they can not only continue the program, but expand it.
“The idea is that the program will grow beyond me, so that it exists as the norm rather than the exception.” Kroll said. “I want to develop a mental health professional academy at the police academy that is focused on how to co-respond: safety situations, Care Under Fire/Medic first aid, Force Options, and co-response models, etc. I want to train mental health professionals to do that work – to be a partner with law enforcement – and we need a way to do that.”
Hear about the work she does with the Bothell Police Department’s Navigator Program:
Building a career in mental health
In addition to the work she does with local law enforcement, Kroll works as a regional operations director for Valley Cities, which specializes in behavioral health and substance abuse recovery. She started out with Valley Cities as an intern and quickly rose through the ranks.
“It’s been a steady climb and I found a niche in crisis work,” Kroll said. “We’ve hired folks from CityU’s counseling program because I have confidence in the program and students. It’s an amazing alumni connection.”
Kroll initially found City University of Seattle in an untraditional way. She was looking to build her skills so that she could better serve the domestic violence and sexual assault survivors she was volunteering with, and wanted a program that offered different pathways for admission.
“A lot of schools require up-front testing, and I’m a terrible test taker, but I know my ability to succeed,” Kroll said. “I was looking for schools that would take a chance on me, and CityU did. They do interviews, essays and figure out how to maximize a candidate’s skill set. I interviewed and talked about how I test horribly and they called and wanted to take me in. They took a chance on me, and let me prove that I can work hard and succeed – to the mutual benefit of the industry, the school and myself.”
Kroll’s connection with CityU faculty has continued and evolved as she advanced from student to colleague.
“I’ve had the ability to transition the academic relationship to a professional relationship,” Kroll said. “I owe so much to the university and to Michael Theisen, Ellen Carruth, Amy Cummings-Garcia and Renee Balodis-Cox for seeing potential in me and getting me to where I sit. I wouldn’t be where I am with my career if Michael hadn’t sat in that interview and taken me on, if Ellen hadn’t pulled me aside and told me I’m in my own way and then helped me work around it, or without Amy’s teaching on ethics and Renee’s on diagnosis. I wouldn’t be where I am without those four people. It was a definitive change in my life personally, professionally, academically, the whole nine yards.”
Kroll’s leap into a mental health career was a risk at the time, but one that has paid off for her and all those she has aided since then.
“I took it on faith that it was the right avenue for me, but in hindsight I had no idea what kind of fit it would be come,” Kroll said. “I’ve read quotes that, ‘you can’t experience the greatness that will come to you if you cling to something that’s mediocre,’ but I could never have prepared myself for the sheer amount of opportunities and experiences, as well as the tears and determination it’s taken to continue when stuff gets tough. I had a hope that it would work out, and by far, everything was exceeded in spades. I had no idea that this was going to happen to me the way that it has. I’m so grateful every second of every day.”