Plans unclear for Nashville’s Crisis Intervention Team to handle mental health and policing

Source: Natalie Neysa Alund, Nashville Tennessean Published 9:00 p.m. CT April 1, 2021  

Nashville’s top cop has long touted a new approach to 911 scenes — a crisis intervention team to respond to emergencies involving people with mental health issues. 

Chief John Drake campaigned for the initiative before he took over the department last year. He recently tasked one of Metro Nashville Police Department’s leaders to head the co-op of mental health experts and plain-clothed police officers. 

After Nashville officers shot two people on the same day in March — one who charged police with a pickax after threatening suicide, the police chief echoed his proposal. 

“We’re hoping to have a co-response model … for crisis intervention, where we can have mental health experts and police officers respond simultaneously,” Drake told reporters during a press conference after the March 12 police shootings.  

But when the crisis team will begin responding to scenes is unclear. 

It’s all still preliminary 

Police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said MNPD is formulating a co-response approach for mental health calls, but the plan is still preliminary. 

“Chief Drake is very supportive of this program, and we want to get it going,” Mumford said. 

Mumford said there is no date when the mental health professionals and officers will be together on the ground responding to scenes. 

“The hope is to have it sooner than later,” she said. “In the end, those clinicians (counselors) will ride along in the police car to scenes. If people are tied up with calls (in one area of the city) hopefully we can call officers from other precincts.” 

MNPD is working with mental health co-op 

When Drake announced the creation of MNPD’s first-ever Office of Alternative Policing Strategies in February, he named David Imhof, who led operations at the East Precinct for a decade, as the new office’s inspector. 

“Overall, our vision is to improve outcomes, streamline services and create a systematic approach that benefits those who struggle with behavioral health issues,” said Imhof, who recently received his master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. 

Since tasked with leading the co-op, Imhof has met with two Mental Health Cooperative representatives: Amanda Bracht, the agency’s senior vice president of clinical services, and Michael Randolph, a crisis supervisor who led workshops about psychosis for the United States Secret Service agents. 

The agency, MNPD leaders said, will provide special crisis intervention training to police officers. 

“We plan to do 40 hours of initial training that will not only involve experts we have on-staff but people from the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness,” Bracht said Wednesday. “To bring in people who suffer from mental or substance disorders to train an officer about what it’s like to be a person with mental illness in our society.” 

The agency, Bracht said, plans to begin training of small groups of about eight to 10 officers. 

As of late March, Mumford said, training had not taken place. 

Bracht said she met with Imhof and Drake Tuesday, and the agency plans to “get something implemented within the next 60 days” to get the first group of officers trained 

The model will look like other cities’ 

Other large cities including Memphis and Houston have similar mental health response teams. 

“The Memphis model came out in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and programs across the country use the model as a base to build their programs,” Imhof said. 

Memphis’s crisis intervention team model offers: 

  • Specially trained officers to respond immediately to crisis calls 
  • Ongoing training of CIT officers at no expense to Memphis 
  • Establishments of partnerships of police, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Memphis, mental health providers , and mental health consumers. 

The team, according to the Memphis Police Department, is made up of volunteer officers from each police precinct who respond to calls about complex issues related to mental illness. 

The officers also perform their regular duty patrol assignments. 

According to MPD, 268 officers participate in specialized training under the instructional supervision of mental health providers, family advocates , and mental health consumer groups. 

The officers maintain around-the-clock coverage. 

The mayor supports community solutions 

Mumford said the proposed team should not be an additional cost to MNPD. 

“It will be up to the mental health co-operative to hire clinicians,” she said. 

As MNPD works with the community to build the model, Mayor John Cooper this week announced he wants to set aside $1 million to bolster Nashville’s overall behavioral health crisis response. 

The money would go to the Metro Public Health Department to better support people experiencing addiction and mental health crisis, Cooper’s spokeswoman Andrea Fanta said. 

“Mayor Cooper believes in community solutions to community challenges,” Fanta said. 

That proposal goes to Metro Council for approval in the coming weeks. 

Activists have pushed for the program 

Earlier this month, the Nashville Organized for Action and Hope’s criminal justice task force held a press conference to address the two most recent police shootings in the city. 

On March 12, a morning shoot-out left Nika Holbert, 31, dead and Officer Josh Baker critically wounded. That afternoon, a 33-year-old woman was nonfatally shot by Officer Brandon Lopez after a standoff during which she wielded a pickax.  

“These preventable shootings point to larger, systemic issues within the police force and their approach to providing public safety to the Nashville community,” the group said in a statement. 

“What is the price of proper training for police officers on mental health crisis calls? A life?” NOAH member Shaveh Jackson said. 

The Rev. Jane Boram said she has met with Drake twice this year about implementing the Health Engagement and Liaison Services proposal or HEALS.  

She said while Drake has spoken about embracing a dual response with police and mental health support teams, the proposal hasn’t been implemented.  

“Talk, talk, talk. We’re tired of talking. We’re tired of waiting,” Boram said. “This has got to stop. Each life is sacred.”