Mayor Cooper's recovery plan includes renewed focus on 'co-responding'

Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 20:53:36-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It’s one component of Mayor John Cooper’s $10 million recovery plan that could be easily overlooked, but we’re digging deeper into a renewed emphasis on co-responders.

When asked Tuesday, what was the most pressing issue from his new proposal? Mayor Cooper told us mental health is one area with a dramatic need.

“With COVID, people being shut in, feeling isolated, the country divided, a pandemic that we didn’t know that much about, we see a lot of need there,” Cooper said.

If his proposal is approved by Metro Council, at least $1 million would go toward the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative housed at Metro Public Health.

According to Mayor Cooper’s office, part of that funding helps, “augment the services of the mobile crisis unit and provide support for co-responder models that establish a primary role.”

It takes up just one paragraph in Mayor Cooper’s plan, but that’s where we first see the term co-responder mentioned. The idea is to have a mental health specialist join the police when responding to someone going through a mental crisis. Take for example the officer-involved shooting on Greer Road this past Friday.

Officers were told the woman was suicidal and heard the woman ask to be shoot. Bodycam footage shows the officers negotiating with the woman before the situation escalated.

Inspector David Imhof with Metro Nashville says it’s hard to look back several days and wonder what else could have been done. What he knows is that officers do have the option to call the mobile response unit for help.

“Depending on the circumstances, the mobile crisis may respond in person or they may ask us to go ahead based on the circumstances we’re describing,” Imhof said.

As head of the new Office of Alternative Policing Strategies, Imhof says he’s researching several cities with similar co-responder models. He says co-responding is still very new in Nashville, but it has the support and for good reason.

“I can’t even describe how important it is to have those folks on the scene to assist you and collaborate with you and be able to consult with,” Imhof said.

Robin Nobling of the National Alliance on Mental Illness agrees co-responding helps not only officers but families who often are the ones making the call to police.

“They’re going to be able to feel better about the fact that someone is taking their loved one’s behaviors into consideration,” Nobling said.

Nobling says through NAMI, they’re training families to remember to say “my loved one” is in a mental health crisis when calling for help. She says it’s a subtle change, but it goes a long way.

“Ultimately, these are health conditions that we are responding to and they need the same level of care that we would give any other health crisis,” Nobling said.

Imhof says he intends to gather more research on the co-responder model and share it with Metro Nashville Police administrators in the coming weeks. He believes we could see more mental health specialists called out to scenes soon, but he warns that not every situation will be an easy fix.

“I think some people just think they can sprinkle magic therapy dust and everything is going to be fine. The situation still has to be stabilized,” Imhof said.

That said, Imhof remains a big advocate of having mental health experts on the scene and says they can be an invaluable resource.