Prevention Profiles: Take Five - Dave Closson M.S. (Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies)


Dave Closson

Audio file

Dave Closson, who now works with the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, joins us this episode. Closson's background includes serving in the Illinois National Guard, as a campus police officer at Eastern Illinois University and as Assistant Director of the Illinois Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Other Drug and Violence Prevention. Drawing from these experiences, he discusses what prevention professionals need to know about students who return from military deployment, challenges he faced trying to connect law enforcement and prevention on campus, plus much more.

Rich Lucey:  Hi. This is Rich Lucey in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section and welcome to this episode of Prevention Profiles Take Five.
I’m very excited to have today as my guest, Dave Closson, who is with the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, and I’m going to give you a little bit of background about Dave before we get into our five questions.
Dave Closson currently serves as a Training and Technical Assistance Specialist for the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, otherwise known as the CAPT, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In this role, Dave provides training and technical assistance to states, tribes and colleges and universities on strategic planning.
Before joining the CAPT, Dave was the Assistant Director of the Illinois Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Other Drug and Violence Prevention and he also served as a campus police officer at Eastern Illinois University.
Dave is proud to have served in the Illinois Army National Guard for six years and he was deployed under Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And so with that, Dave, welcome to the podcast.
Dave Closson: Thank you, thank you.
It’s a pleasure to be here.
Lucey:  Absolutely.
So we’re going to just jump right into our five questions.
And the first one:
So looking back over your career as a campus police officer and then devoting the majority of your efforts later in prevention, what was the biggest challenge you faced in trying to build a connection between law enforcement and prevention?
Closson:  Excellent, excellent question.
For me, one of the biggest challenges would be helping others, so the prevention staff members and law enforcement really see the big picture when it comes to prevention.
Often, as a police officer or even a prevention role, you can get tunnel vision, which will really limit your focus.
But there might be a bigger, better way to really approach things.
You know, if you think about prevention, it takes a very multifaceted and comprehensive approach to really move that prevention needle.
It takes a team.
You know, collaboration and at the heart of that collaboration are relationships.
And when it comes specifically to law enforcement, their role is much larger than simply writing tickets or just enforcing the laws or campus policies.
You know, helping those officers understand that their contact with the student could really be the first step to that student creating positive change and getting the help that they need.
Second, helping those officers see that enforcement is a necessary part of prevention.
If you look at the research, students will even report that receiving a citation or being arrested has the most negative consequence.
A little story real quick, too.
When I was a young officer, I felt bad writing the student a ticket.
You know, I didn’t want to ding them for the rest of their life or really impact their college career.
But as I learned more about prevention, my perspective changed and I saw that interaction as a way to move upstream and really help that student before things drastically impacted their lives.
So really, just helping both law enforcement and prevention see the total picture, that big picture, that 30,000 view.
Lucey:  I’m glad that you brought that up, this whole idea that the team approach and how enforcement certainly plays a role in that, because I mean, we know in prevention, certainly you know in the work that you’ve done, that a lot of times prevention focuses around access of alcohol and other drugs, the availability of substances, the community norms around these substances and enforcement is so directly related to all of those.
Closson: Yes, very much so, very much so.
And actually, that collaboration piece, when it comes to enforcement, is something that I try to drive home with everyone.
I worked with a few clients  and they went through their SPF process, the Strategic Prevention Framework or Strategic Planning Process and came up, after looking at their numbers, they’re like, hey, we need to step up enforcement.
We need to do compliance checks.
We really need to do this.
So then they go out and try to build a relationship and say, hey, law enforcement.
Here’s what you need to do.
So if they had collaborated from the beginning, it would have made a big difference.
Lucey: I’ll move onto our second question, because it stays on this topic of enforcement and it really kind of drills down, if you will, into an approach that, that you’ve taken, based on the work that you’ve done, certainly in prevention.
So you put your skills in both law enforcement and prevention to good use in the work you’ve done around motivational interviewing for campus police.
Now that’s certainly not a population you hear of often, when we talk about motivational interviewing, which is often done with students.
So tell us a little bit about what this is and the reception it has received in the law enforcement community.
Closson: Sure.
And I could talk about this for hours, so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes’ version, because I know time is limited.
Lucey:  OK.
Closson:  But essentially, while I was serving as a crime prevention officer, I was invited to co-teach some alcohol sanction classes with the Student Conduct Office.
So for that, I went to a couple trainings, so basics, and then also some motivational interviewing or MI for short.
And as I was co-teaching these alcohol sanction classes, using you know, the motivational interviewing approach, things started to click.
And those interactions seemed so powerful and the students really enjoyed having that style of interaction with the police officer.
Most college students don’t want to talk to the cops.
They walk the other way.
So there’s just something new and the light bulb went off.
Because as an officer, I noticed every police officer, they would take time to talk to students at the end of an interaction, whether they wrote a citation or note.
But they all had their different style.
Some might lecture, some might sound like a disappointed parent or some might threaten or even scold the student.
But as I was learning about MI and the evidence behind it, I realized, you know, this might just be the most effective way to talk to those students in that five, ten or fifteen minute little conversation, to really create a jump start to change.
And I like to compare it to, there are four main themes.
How I talked earlier, that the students report being arrested or receiving a citation is their most negative consequence.
If they’re having an interaction with an officer where they think they could get a citation, they’re already going to be thinking about their behavior and how they might have been in a different situation, had they changed their behavior.
Their motivation to change is already going to be elevated, rather than when they enter the student conduct process a couple weeks later and life has gone on.
So starting that change process out in the field, you know, having that short MI conversation can really create that jump start to change.
When they enter the student conduct process, they’ve already started that change process and it creates consistent, consistency throughout the student conduct process.
So they’ll receive a little bit of MI out in the field from the officers and then throughout the student conduct process, they’re often exposed to experienced motivational interviewing as well.
So that consistent support will help the students move through this station of change, just that much better.
And as I was saying, really explaining to those campus police officers, you know, what it is and how it relates to their job.
It’s been received very well.
Officers do care and they do want to help, that’s why they went into that profession.
And when I teach some sort of the fundamental skills of motivational interviewing, they’re like hey, I already know how to do this stuff.
I just need to change the focus towards helping that student create positive change around their substance misuse.
So it seems just really quick.
It’s great when you’re in front of an audience of officers and you’re explaining it.
You give them a quick little demonstration and you see the lightbulbs going off around the room; I get this, I can do this.
But it’s a lot of fun and really seeing the officers embrace it and take it out on patrol with them is great.
Lucey:  So I have to presume … I mean, I know it’s probably a little bit of a stereotype.
We certainly will face this within DEA, because our, you know, primary mission is law enforcement driven, but you know, sometimes people view the interactions with any form of law enforcement is almost automatically going to be set up as an adversarial type connection.
And yet, motivational interviewing is anything but adversarial.
The whole idea is this empathic conversation between the trained individual and the student.
And so, I have to imagine that for students having that type of conversation with campus police, probably is a little off-putting at first, but then yet puts them at ease.
Would you say that that’s been your experience? 
Closson:  Yes.
It almost catches them off-guard.
They’re expecting for that adversarial, that, you know, let’s challenge each other relationship or interaction.
Then when you come alongside them and you know what?  Let’s, let’s talk about this, you know.
I’m here to help and I want to actually hear and value your input and your perspective, you know, what you have to say is more important than what I have to say as an officer.
It catches them off-guard.
But it doesn’t take long for the students to really open up and they embrace and enjoy that style of interaction with law enforcement.
That style of interaction not only can help those students create change, but I’ve seen it help rebuild the trust between the community, the campus, and their police departments, because it really is that empathetic, we’re here to help approach.
Lucey: Excellent.
So I’m going to switch off of the enforcement topic for just a bit and move onto my third question and it really centers around the work that you’re doing with the CAPT.
So I know that you are engaging with a whole variety of settings.
You’re working with state systems, tribal communities as well as colleges and universities on their strategic planning processes for prevention.
So in that work, what do you see as being one or two of the biggest challenges that college campuses are currently having around drug abuse prevention?
Closson:  Well, the biggest challenge that I hear from campuses across the country would be funding.
The budgets are being cut.
This then impacts staffing.
Everybody is filling multiple roles and then that also impacts their ability to get training to better do their jobs and it can impact programming as well.
But being the positive person that I am, you know, I like to let this challenge be a dragon factor towards collaboration and an even bigger reason to really partner and share resources.
You cross-train with your campus police, with your law enforcement.
Help teach them about prevention, you know, everybody working together, sharing those resources and that same approach can help overcome this obstacle, the challenge of funding.
Lucey: That is a big thing, obviously.
You know, when I talk to people that are … when I talk to campuses or K-12 settings or community at large about the strategic prevention framework, otherwise known as the SPF, you know, it’s that second step of building capacity that really kind of hangs people up a little bit, because they think of, in order to build capacity, I need money.
And I always tell folks, I am not going to lie; it helps, but it’s not the be-all and the end-all.
And so, this is where partnerships and collaboration come into play, where you can work with others to leverage getting training and getting the necessary education and technical assistance you need to do a good job in prevention.
Closson: Yes, exactly.
And I’ve got to give a shout out to the CAPT.
On their website, they’ve got their prevention training now, which is online training courses around prevention.
Then they also have the Collaboration Toolkit, which has some great resources as well, to walk you through the collaboration process.
I just had to give that quick little shout out.
Lucey: No, I’m glad you did and I’ll add to that.
In addition to those tools, that for people who are engaged and I hope you are, in any kind of a strategic planning process, but since we’re talking about the SPF, the CAPT on its website has some really easy-to-read, very easily digestible, one … they’re more or less one to four pagers about each of the five steps.
And I know that these are really good guidance documents for people who are engaged in the planning process and they might hit a hiccup or something.
That really gives some really good advice to people as they’re carrying out these plans.
So between the Toolkit that you’ve mentioned and those one-pagers, there is and there are really good resources and tools out there for people working on their strategic plans.
Closson: Yes, indeed.
Lucey: So, so Dave, I mentioned your military service in your bio.
And I certainly want to thank you for that service to our country.
I know you and I haven’t really talked a lot about this particular topic, we’ve touched on it, but I am curious.
What would you say prevention practitioners need to be mindful of when working with students who might have recently returned from military deployment?  I hear often on college campuses that, you know, current service members and veterans are a significant population of focus on campuses, so what would you, what you would say those prevention folks need to be mindful of when working with that population?
Closson:  Sure, sure.
I’d be happy to talk about that.
Before I get right to the advice, I’ll give a little background on my story to help set the context for it.
Lucey: Please do.
Closson: I was deployed to Iraq during the first semester of my junior year in college.
That led me to getting back in time, just to see all of my friends graduate.
So then when I started back at school that fall, I didn’t have any friends on campus.
I was older than all the other students and quite frankly, I had life experiences like none of the other students as well.
And that really led me to feeling out of place and almost like I didn’t belong on campus.
With that, you know, if you think, you know, one of the easiest ways to go out and make new friends is to go out and socialize, go out and party or drink, go to the bars.
And so with that, so the advice that I would give, you know, the importance of connecting student veterans with their peers, other student veterans, so they have that sense of belonging, that support and that good group of friends that they can relate to.
They don’t even have to open up and share their experiences, but just knowing that somebody else is a veteran, they’ve been through it as well.
You have this just sense of connection.
The other piece of advice would be to keep that trauma-informed approach when you’re interacting and working with student veterans.
You know, they might have been through something very traumatic.
There’s also more research now about moral injuries.
But just keep that in mind and you know, have that be your heart and mindset when you’re working with the student veterans.
Some ways to tackle this, collaborate with your student veteran organizations on campus and in the community.
That same collaboration piece, build a team and put together a bunch of resources, ways to help those student veterans.
And then don’t forget about the veterans’ family members.
A lot of times the student veterans are going to be older.
They might have spouses, they might have kids.
That was one of the things that I really was surprised by it.
I didn’t really think about before my deployment, but it was just as hard on my family as it was on  me.
I don’t think my mom slept an entire minute, the entire time I was deployed.
And so, including the veteran’s family, knowing that it can be tough on them, too.
So have some support for them, but then also resources in the way that those family members can support their veterans.
Lucey:  Yes, I’m glad you mentioned that.
I mean, I’ll jump in, you know, with a personal anecdote as well, that my sister and brother-in-law, his son was deployed a couple of years ago over Christmastime.
And although they had an opportunity to Facetime with him during that period, I got to see, if you will, the anxiety and the toll that that takes on, you know, on the parents, you know, and on the family members, as you said.
They … it’s just a very anxiety-producing situation.
So taking the more holistic approach, if you will, that you know, first and foremost, yeah, let’s provide care and support for the service member, for the veteran, but let’s also not forget the care and support that their family members need as well.
I love the idea of what you mentioned about connectedness and thank you for sharing, you know, providing a little bit of context about what you were going through when you returned from deployment, because you know, that really does provide some really critical background.
For you going back on campus, you know, it’s not a direct parallel and please, I apologize; I don’t want it to seem like that, but you know, it’s often like a student who may leave campus and go into treatment for an alcohol or drug problem and then they come back to campus.
It’s the after-care, if you will.
And sometimes they feel quite isolated, right?  So I appreciate what you said about this whole idea of feeling, there was a feeling of disconnectedness that you had, feeling isolated, because your peers were gone.
And so you had to almost kind of rebuild your social network, right?
Closson: Very much so, yes.
Lucey: So I appreciate the advice that you’re giving to your peers in prevention, working on campuses, that that should be on their mind when they’re working with student veterans, is, you know, this idea of connectedness might be one of the first things they think about.
So I appreciate you giving that.
So we’ll move onto our final question and I’m going to ask you for our podcast listeners who are working to prevent drug abuse among college students, whether they’re working directly on a campus or working in the surrounding community.
What’s the best piece of advice around collaborating with law enforcement that you can give to them?
Closson: This probably will not be a surprise, if you’ve been listening to all the other answers, but relationships, relationships, relationships.
We’re all in this together.
You know, take time to get to know your stakeholders and your prevention team members.
You know, those relationships are going to set the foundation for collaboration, for that resource sharing.
It’s going to increase buy-in and it’s going to open up a lot of doors.
You’ve got to remember it takes time to build relationships.
You can’t just go knock on a door and say hey, let’s be friends.
Oh, by the way, here’s a to-do list for you; things I need you to do.
That’s not very likely to get you the results that you want.
You know, some ways to build those relationships with law enforcement, cohost some events with them.
Crime prevention officers, patrol officers are always looking for ways for that positive interaction with students.
But as a police officer, I didn’t get invited very often.
You know, it’s almost like the students or the student organizations, they didn’t think about us.
We were out of sight, out of mind.
So inviting officers to join, cohost or even just attend some of your events or meetings can make a big difference in getting to know each other.
And take time to get to know them as a person and get to know their jobs.
You know, what challenges are they facing as a campus police officer?  You know, see the world through their eyes, take time to do a ride-along or even a walk-along.
If they’re out on foot patrol, spend a few minutes walking around campus, just talking with them.
You know, and also lastly, include them in your strategic planning process, whether it’s using the SPF or your own planning process.
Bring them onboard and let them be a part of it.
They have a lot to contribute.
Lucey: So thank you for that.
And the key I just took out of what you just said was the idea that the relationship building takes time.
I think I know in presentations that I’ve been doing recently, while I know it may be hard for people to hear, the whole area of prevention and the results we’re hoping to see in prevention, takes time.
These results and the declines we want to see in alcohol and drug use, do not happen overnight.
And so, just like the trends we’re hoping to see take time, so does relationship building.
And so, I really appreciate what you just said, in collaborating with law enforcement, is in order to make those partnerships, you have to cultivate them and that’s not going to happen just in one event or one overnight.
Closson: Exactly, exactly.
Lucey:  So, so Dave, with that, I do want to thank you so much for offering up your insights during this podcast around law enforcement, around working with the military community, all around the strategic planning process.
It’s really been very helpful to have you on the show and I know that our listeners are really going to value what you’ve had to offer them today, so thank you very much for that.
Closson: Yes, any time.
Always glad to help out and thank you and thank you to your team for all the work you’ve been doing with campus drug prevention.
Lucey:  Well, we appreciate it.

Closson: It’s making a big difference; a great resource.
Lucey: We’re really excited about the reception it’s received, both the website in general, as well as this whole podcast series, which launched last January.
So thank you again and with that to our listeners, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of "Prevention Profiles: Take Five" and be on the lookout for future podcasts, as they post to the website,
And with that, take care and have a great day.