Clinicians to soon join Metro officers on mental health calls

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Posted at 3:35 PM, Jun 21, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's the future of policing and the time is now in Nashville. That's the word, as law enforcement gets innovative with calls involving those with a mental illness.

Crisis intervention teams are about to hit the streets of Nashville and the goal is to save lives. So, what happens when police encounter someone mentally ill with a weapon?

We've seen it here in Metro Nashville. In many cases, the individual was shot. Could things have been different?

This past March, police found a woman armed with an ax who allegedly wanted them to shoot her. An officer tried talking her down but, then the woman's mother showed up and things escalated. When the woman lunged with her weapon another officer shot her. She survived.

"If you had a clinician there and mom came on the scene someone could have engaged mom and told her to back off," said Amanda Bracht with the Mental Health Co-op.

Starting this month, a mental health clinician will be there as the city is investing thousands in the program. Metro Council recently approved an additional $800,000 to the budget for the Mental Health Co-op.

Bracht said clinicians from the Mental Health Co-op will join Metro officers to form a crisis invention team.

"Their primary responsibility will be to go on calls with a mental health component," Bracht said.

Calls like one in May when Metro officers tried to negotiate with a man with schizophrenia who was armed for several hours. Eventually, the man fired two shots and a SWAT officer returned fire, killing him.

"Those situations are incredibly dangerous especially when there is a weapon involved," said Bracht.

Police do get mental health training and Bracht said they did all they could in both instances. But, having a clinician on such calls will help in evaluating the mental illness and how best to respond.

"So, you have a clinician working side-by-side with an officer from the onset of the situation," said Bracht.

These clinicians will not carry guns but will wear bullet-proof vests and go with officers on dangerous calls.

If there's a mental component they can now do the talking while officers focus on public safety.

The Crisis Intervention Team concept begins June 28 with a total of six clinicians riding with officers of the North and Hermitage precincts.

The goal eventually will be to have these mental health experts assisting on call out of every precinct in the city.