NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After years of scrutiny of Metro Nashville Police's response to mental health calls, Nashville's "Partners in Care" program is up for more funding from Metro Council on Tuesday night.
Partners in Care pairs a Metro Police officer with a mental health counselor to go out to the scene together to assess and deescalate the situation.
"The dispatcher will identify something that would be flagged as a possible mental health issue. And that looks like a lot of different things from somebody who's being suicidal, somebody's hearing voices, or somebody's running around the road. Lots of different things," explained Metro Nashville Hermitage Precinct Officer Ian Hammond.
Hammond and less than 10 other officers at his precinct offered to go through the 40-hour training to be part of the Partners in Care pilot program.
Hammond said the training was well-worth his time. "Things that we were missing before that we're not now, the response time to being able to get someone there, and then diverting people out of the criminal justice system and into the mental health system what they really need," he said.
Hammond said before the counselors were dedicated to their precinct, it could take more than an hour for a counselor to show up to what the officers had deemed a mental health call.
"Maybe this person is not wanting to wait an hour. Maybe there's nothing that I can... you know, I can't hold them here against their will. And they're like, ‘Hey, listen, you got five minutes. So you don't have somebody here then like, I'm walking off,'" explained Hammond.
With the program in place since June 2021 in Nashville's North and Hermitage precincts, Partners in Care teams have responded to more than 1,000 mental health-related events. Of those, only 10 resulted in an arrest and instead pointed those in crisis to mental health resources.
"The single biggest improvement that I've seen having this program is the ability to try and divert people away from the criminal justice system," Hammond explained. "That counselor is 100% the one who's able to make those decisions, and they are the professionals in that. But, the 40-hour training that we went through allows us to identify those issues a lot more to so we're able to say, ‘hey, look, something's going on here. I kind of got a feeling about this one.’"
"It's really, I think, probably one of the most significant collaborations between a nonprofit organization and Metro government. Because of Mental Health Cooperative partnering with MNPD, partnering with other nonprofits and really being kind of the leader in how we are responding to mental health and behavioral health challenges in our city," stated Metro Council Member Erin Evans of the program.
She said the goal is to have the program in every precinct and called it an "immediate budget concern."
"It relieves some of the pressure for MNPD to know everything. They don't have to be a psychologist also, in addition to everything else that they have responsibility for, you know, they can rely on an expert that's with them to help deescalate situations," Evans said.
The Central precinct began the program in May. Evans said she hopes the data in that area is recorded differently to account for how many incidents are for tourists as opposed to locals.
"I definitely think it's our best effort yet. It's one of the most encouraging programs that I've seen Metro fund," stated Evans. "I just feel super grateful that we in Hermitage have had the opportunity to have it because it's been, I think, a huge program for our community. And I feel very fortunate that we've had this opportunity and I want other parts of the county to have this same experience."
The Mental Health Cooperative (MHC) has been serving the Nashville community as an outpatient clinic for behavioral and mental health needs since the 1990s. MHC was asked to help train Metro Police and the mental health counselors for the Partners in Care program.
"Everyone's at different stages of life. They have different barriers, different needs and some people just aren't ready. So we're constantly there for when they are, will begin services, maybe sometimes we stop services, and we pick up where we left off," stated Mental Health Cooperative Outreach Specialist Christian Michael.
The vote on Tuesday could expand the program to more areas of Nashville — an expansion MHC, Councilwoman Evans and Officer Hammond said would be funding well-spent.
"I can't say that having a counselor there will solve all the situations," explained Hammond. "But from my experience, it has been overwhelmingly successful and useful for us for us as officers."