KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knoxville City Council met Thursday to review a program that takes a new approach to how emergency services respond to calls about mental health.
In a partnership between the Knoxville Police Department and the McNabb Center, mental health workers are paired with police in calls involving mental health. The team then works with the person, connecting them with resources and if the call is severe enough, bringing them to a hospital.
One police officer who works with the program said that teams are capable of approaching situations in ways that others officers can't. Sergeant Thomas Clinton said that teams can usually spend more time with people, de-escalating situations.
"We're able to do a function that does not infringe on what normal officers already do, and we can actually supplement them and get them back in the street to do more work," he said.
A group proposed removing police from calls about mental health crises during the meeting, creating an alternative response team made up of behavioral health specialists paired with EMT workers or medics.
Plants for the alternative response team came from Knoxville HEART, and they said they hoped the plan would reduce police involvement in calls about mental health issues.
Clinton said that he would be open to expanding the program to include more teams and teams made up of different workers. He says he hopes the program continues to expand so that teams can respond to more calls when more come in at once, and so they can work longer than their current daytime schedule.
"There are definitely calls that we go on that would be better suited with our abilities, with a law enforcement officer and a behavioral health specialist," he said. "And there are other calls that would be better to have that alternative response, where you're just using community service providers."
As of May 4, the program has responded to 199 calls.