NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro Nashville Police officers will soon share a squad car with mental health professionals, as they co-respond to the scene of a mental health crisis.
Sixteen officers between the North and Hermitage precincts volunteered for this new training. That includes six clinicians from the Mental Health Cooperative. Inspector David Imhof of Metro Nashville’s Office of Alternative Policing Strategies joined Chief John Drake to explain how these teams will work in tandem.
“They’re going to be riding every day with an officer who is trained in crisis intervention and they will be responding to those calls to service,” Imhof said.
Beginning June 28, officers will stabilize the scene and the clinicians will evaluate anyone in need of help. In past years, officers responded to the scene first and would later contact a mental health professional for guidance.
Take, for example, the case of Jacob Griffin who last month was in a three-hour standoff with police before shooting his gun in their direction. Griffin's mother called police to warn them that her son, who had schizophrenia, had a gun and could be a danger to the employees of the Goodwill her son was living behind. Officers arrived first but contacted crisis professionals to offer help and communicate with family. Counselors relayed messages between Griffin's siblings and mother back to him, but it wasn’t long before communication broke down. Griffin became agitated with officers and fired twice. Officers used diversion tactics and a police K-9 before they approached Griffin. Body camera footage showed that in the struggle, Griffin fired again which lead officers to fire back in self-defense. Griffin died from his injuries shortly thereafter.
“We would love to be able to predict a great outcome on every single call we come to, but a lot of times these calls are unpredictable. So all we can do is set ourselves up to best handle these calls every single time,” Imhof said.
Chief Drake said he created Imhof’s new position for the sole purpose of creating a more collaborative model with MHC. He praised the officers who volunteered to become crisis specialists.
Nashville’s Co-Response Crisis Intervention Program has four important goals:
1. Improve access to care for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis
2. Divert those in crisis from the criminal justice system to the health care system
3. Improve safety for those in crisis, clinicians, and police officers
4. Improve coordination and communication across systems and service providers
“We’re firmly committed to this effort. We’re going to do whatever we can to make this program successful. Whatever resources we need to put into it we will, but know that you have my total support,” Drake said.
Officer Garren Hoskins is one of 16 volunteers and says he’s experienced many mental health calls in his almost seven years at the North precinct. He spoke about how difficult it is to begin a conversation with someone in a crisis.
With a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, officer Hoskins understands how communication skills could be the most valuable tools in law enforcement. He hopes that through this training, he and the clinicians will be able to better establish trust.
“When you start to establish yourself as a person and less of a police officer, that person will trust you more and be willing to be articulate,” Hoskins said.
If treatment is the next step, patients can be transferred to the MHC where any number of specialists can offer options. Unlike the new Behavioral Care Center located near the Davidson County Detention facility, you don’t have to commit a crime to get help. Anyone can call the triage specialists at MHC or 911 if they’re concerned about your mental health.
In March, these specialists told us crisis calls increased from a couple thousand per month to more than 8,000 during the pandemic. Amanda Bracht is the senior vice president of clinical services with MHC and hopes this new model can bring those numbers down, by making treatment more accessible.
“We will be doing follow-ups with folks that the teams have been out on and hopefully get direct feedback from them about what worked and what could have been better,” Bracht said.
The co-responding model will begin with the North and Hermitage precincts and may expand to other precincts in the next few months. It’s not a 24/7 model quite yet, but Bracht says they expect that to change as they hire more clinicians to meet the demand.
Mayor John Cooper’s $10 million recovery plan included at least $1 million for the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative housed at Metro Public Health. The proposal first initiated the renewed emphasis on co-responding.