Arts, Education and Law's 2020 Outstanding International Alumnus
Doctor of Philosophy
As a New York City law enforcement veteran, former crisis/hostage negotiator and now a mental health specialist, Dr Jeff Thompson combines professional experience and academic rigour to save lives.
After initially graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Communications and Media Studies) from New York's Manhattan College in 2000, Dr Thompson has attained many other qualifications and important roles. In 2010, Dr Thompson completed a Masters (International Negotiation) at Nebraska's Creighton University. He received the Alumni Merit Award from Creighton in 2015. From 2013 to 2014, he was a Research Scholar in Law/Conflict Resolution at Columbia University School of Law.
Dr Thompson received his PhD in Legal Practice (Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Non-Verbal Crisis Communication) from Griffith University in 2015. He describes himself as a "practitioner who infiltrated academia", choosing Griffith University for his PhD after connecting with the University when visiting his wife’s family in northern NSW. The doctorate complements and contributes to a career that has seen him immersed many times in volatile situations, including terrorist incidents and hostage negotiations.
“I have been able to use my PhD to apply the science and data to working with people. By reviewing the existing research and conducting my own studies, I had a deeper understanding of everything – rapport, empathy, influencing tactics, and the important role of active listening,” he said.
In 2003 he joined the New York Police Department and in 2018 became their first ever Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator.
Other prominent positions include: Adjunct Associate Research Scientist (Molecular Imaging & Neuropathology Division) for the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center; Chair of the Law Enforcement Committee and Volunteer Crisis Counsellor for innovative support organisation, Crisis Text Line; Adjunct Instructor at New York University; Member of the Adjunct Faculty at Lipscomb University; Certified Psychological Autopsy Investigator; Committee Member for Psychological Autopsy Certification Training at the American Association of Suicidology; Committee Member for the New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
From 2011 to 2016, Dr Thompson was a Board Member for the Association for Conflict Resolution-Greater New York Chapter. He has been published in numerous journals, books and other publications.
Today, while continuing to work as a detective, Dr Thompson is a mental health and wellness coordinator whose ongoing work – individually and in collaboration with peers across the world (including Griffith University) – is enhancing knowledge and strategies on issues such as terrorism, hostage negotiation, mental illness, crisis communication and suicide prevention.
Acting upon his desire to understand and apply the data/science behind conflict situations, Dr Thompson has enabled a profound understanding of the virtues and impacts of rapport, empathy, influencing tactics and the essential role of active listening. Such knowledge means that he and other professionals have become much better equipped to help people going through the worst moments of their lives.
He spends his days combing data on mental health, trying to find patterns or clues to identify the signs of a person approaching crisis point. He then uses this information to develop mental health training programs ensuring people in crisis are supported.
“It’s my job to help people in the worst moment of their lives. In my work I can apply the science to real life situations, something I would not have been able to do without my PhD,” said Dr Thompson.
“It is an artform and I wanted to understand the science behind what I was doing to give me confidence in my work and to share it with others outside of law enforcement,” he said.
He continues to conduct research in collaboration with peers across the world, including Griffith University, on terrorism, hostage negotiation, mental illness, crisis communication, resilience and suicide prevention.
Dr Thompson’s mental health programs have been rolled out to over 30,000 law enforcement officers in the United States and worldwide. His work has been featured on media websites and in publications including PsychologyToday.com, the New York Times, CNN and BBC radio. Dr Thompson has provided crisis communication training for the FBI, cadets at the West Point Military Academy, and law enforcement crisis negotiators from more than 100 agencies.
This year alone he has been instrumental in two landmark US events combining law enforcement and mental health and wellbeing. In February, Dr Thompson helped organise the HOPE Awards in New York, honouring law enforcement officers who have done heroic work in suicide prevention. Then in April, he organised the International Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention Symposium at Police Headquarters in New York City, bringing together more than 300 researchers, subject experts and law enforcement personnel from across the world.
" When I teach and train people, I tell them what seems like common sense, may not seem like common sense to the person in crisis, they need to talk and know they have been understood.
“Therefore, listening to the person is key – you don’t have to solve their issues," Dr Thompson said.
When he is not at work, Dr Thompson is a crisis counsellor volunteer with, Crisis Text Line, a not-for-profit organisation offering counselling services to Americans via text message. His spare time is dedicated to helping people in the worst moment of their life, an opportunity he considers a privilege.
“They can’t talk to anyone close to them, they won’t call a hotline, but in a last effort they send a text, I’m one of the thousands of volunteer crisis counsellors ready to help and listen,” he said.
Dr Thompson continues to give back to his local community in addition to his global Griffith alumni network. In June 2020, he volunteered his time to deliver a webinar on resilience, with the intention of teaching alumni practises they could immediately implement to cope with COVID-19.
He has now been named Arts, Education and Law's 2020 Outstanding International Alumnus, a title he was thrilled and very grateful to receive.
"I’ve had many wonderful Griffith experiences during my PhD journey. This didn’t end though after receiving my doctorate, I continue to stay connected with the Griffith community working collaboratively on important research including the impact that the global COVID-19 pandemic is having on people’s mental health.
"Although I am the one receiving this award, there are so many people responsible for my success and accomplishments.
"I’ve been very fortunate to work with very brilliant people in academia, intelligent and good-hearted people in law enforcement, and family and friends that have always supported me," said Dr Thompson.