ST. ALBANS — She’s a 24-year-old licensed yoga instructor with a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, soon to acquire her master’s degree in general psychology, and will be pursuing her PhD in general psychology with a focus in yoga psychology, hopefully at Meriden University in California.
She’s also frequently on school resource officer (SRO) duty with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, covering schools outside of the Maple Run Unified School District.
“I’m just another person [students] can go to,” Deputy Karry Andileigh said in an interview with the Messenger. “We’re present to help them and guide them through their youth, and help them be successful in school.”
Andileigh doesn’t have a background typical of many school resource officers. She previously worked at the Howard Center in various capacities, including living skills and crisis prevention, and recently received her non-licensed, non-certified psychotherapist credentials from the state of Vermont, which allows her to put her yoga therapy practice into her work practice. She has been with the department since fall 2019.
Following national events in 2020 involving law enforcement, police methods have come under increased scrutiny nationwide, with some calling for a greater focus on de-escalation techniques and greater understanding by police of mental health issues and how they may present themselves. Some have called for the reallocation of funding from law enforcement and SROs to fund mental health profeessionals.
Andileigh is both.
“Creating that relationship with the student ... it’s just another safe place for them to go to,” Andileigh said of her duties in Franklin County schools. “Security, facilitator, mentor, coach, assistance in many different avenues. Helping clean-up, helping just be there and be present, and help kids understand that law enforcement aren’t scary. We’re here to help, we’re here to protect, and I’m here to learn.”
Andileigh said she plans to pursue the development of a K9 therapy program that brings expertly trained and certified dogs into the department for therapeutic purposes, and is also one of the 35 law enforcement and mental health crisis trainers at Team Two Vermont.
A focus on mental health
Team Two Vermont provides training for mental health crisis workers, law enforcement and other first responders throughout the state.
“Team Two is pretty unique,” said Kristin Chandler, coordinator for Team Two Vermont. “It’s scenario-based training. The idea is to build (interdepartmental) collaboration in responding to mental health crises.”
The training brings together law enforcement, emergency medical staff, dispatch, mental health crisis workers and stakeholders to learn how to collaborate during calls for assistance with those who may be in need of help.
Team Two training is conducted regionally and is only available if police complete the prerequisite Act 80 training, which is held at the police academy, and what Chandler described as Mental illness 101.
The staged scenarios vary in time and place and can involve dual diagnosis, incapacitated persons, those with an intellectual disability, elderly individuals and those who may have post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This training is ahead of its time,” Chandler said. She said the Team Two steering department participates in deciding which scenarios to act out and why.
And some scenarios may even be in schools, involving a school SRO.
“Sometimes they’re the only person that a kid kind of on the edge will identify with,” Chandler said. “It definitely has to be the right person.”
Franklin County Sheriff Robert Langevin and Lt. Paul Morits are also Team Two instructors and Langevin is a Team Two board member as well.
Both have served as SROs.
“A lot of people don’t realize what the SRO actually does,” Morits said of his years in schools. “In my time as an SRO, I’d say probably 10% of my time is spent in actual law enforcement. The rest of the time, the other 90% was either mentoring or counseling students.”
“I’ve taken on a number of cases and worked with parents ... going out to houses, talking with parents, coming back to the school, collaborating with the school, speaking with the student and going back to the parents to follow up and creating that relationship with the family,” Andileigh recalled of her experiences in schools so far. “It sets the foundation for why we all work so well together ... it creates (that additional relationship) that the school needs.”
Cpt. John Grismore, of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, said expanding knowledge and expertise in the mental health field was another way for the department to remake the pedagogy of law enforcement, and to further strengthen the bond with the community they serve.
“We’re going to base our training on the latest and greatest of what’s happening out there,” said Langevin. “On cultural awareness and diversity. Fair and impartial policing ... and the mental health and wellness of our own people ... it’s very important to us.”
Andileigh said she does have students approach her and ask her how they can be an SRO when they grow up, just like her.
“I always tell students to come here (sheriff’s department) and do a ride-along,” Andileigh said.