Metro Nashville police officers start Crisis Intervention Team training for community policing
By: Natalie Neysa Alund, Nashville Tennessean
Training for a long-touted crisis-intervention team in Nashville began this week for 16 Metro Nashville Police Department officers and six mental health counselors.
The test team includes volunteer MNPD officers from the North and Hermitage precincts and Mental Health Cooperative experts part of a mental health co-response pilot program slated to kick off June 28.
The city already has a mobile crisis team but is adding a new approach in which police officers and mental health professionals respond simultaneously to 911 emergencies involving people with mental health issues.
The initiative takes place over the next 12 months and comes in the wake of a handful of Nashville police shootings this year involving people suffering from mental health crises.
“I’m totally committed. I’m totally excited you volunteered to be a part of this,” Nashville police Chief John Drake told the test team inside a Mental Health Cooperative classroom in Metro Center. “Whatever resources we need to put into it, we will.”
The pilot involves reality-based training and scenario acting and was developed on the MNPD side by alternative policing office Inspector David Imhof.
“When calls for service come in, they will arrive together,” Imhof said. “Officers will stabilize the scene, and mental health experts will assess. The goal is to make sure people get all the help they need, avoid jail, limit the number of people who go to the hospital, and avoid future incidents.”
All MNPD officers already receive 58 hours of de-escalation training, Drake noted.
“In the academy with those hours, the primary goal is for a person starting at zero knowledge of mental illness and bringing them to be familiar with the different types of mental illness, kind of like a basic 101 class you would have in college,” said North Precinct Officer Mary Hall, who volunteered to be trained. “You’re not majoring in psychology or biology but you’re going to take classes to introduce you to what’s going on.”
Officers currently are limited in how much help they can provide, she said.
“I’m not a professional and I don’t have that person with me to provide what they need,” the 24-year-old, two-year MNPD veteran said. “We just leave depending on the situation.”
The group will use the combined expertise of officers and behavioral health specialists to de-escalate situations and help link those with behavioral health issues to appropriate services.
“Being educated a little bit more about how to talk to them and be with them through this and give them services, as well as have someone else who completely dedicates their job to it, we’re able to give more time, effort and energy in providing them with a service that will hopefully not only take care of the situation at hand but prevent them from calling again,” Hall said on day four of the week-long training.
‘2000 calls in 2020’
MNPD leaders chose to start the program with North and Hermitage precinct officers based on department call response numbers from last year. Imhof said officers responded to about 2000 calls in 2020 involving people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The pilot program team will work the North and Hermitage precincts, for now, Imhof said. But, he said, they could get called into other precincts to help until officers there are trained.
MNPD runs three shifts. Teams will work the 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, followed by the 2:30 to 11 p.m. shift, Imnof said.
Although the group is starting with six clinicians, that number will likely grow.
“If we go 24-7, we’re going to need a lot more clinicians,” Bracht said.
The police department, Imhof said, is working in conjunction with Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s office, the Metro Public Health Department, the Nashville Fire Department, and more on the pilot.
“It’s been a true collaboration,” he said. “It’s a community program. The pilot program is to find out what works and what doesn’t. Every situation will be unique … a lot of times these calls are unpredictable.”
Other large metropolitan cities including Memphis, Denver, and Houston have similar mental health response teams.
MNPD is basing its team on Denver’s model.
On Friday, MNPD Office of Alternate Policing Strategies Capt. Terrance Graves said the department hopes the next group of about 50 officers will be in the classroom before September.
Meanwhile, he said, MNPD will assess which precincts will enter the next training.
“Ultimately we want to train all of the patrol,” Graves said.
Active scenario practice
During one active scenario practice session this week, Mike Randolph, Mental Health Cooperative emergency psychiatric services program manager, discussed the importance of emotional labeling.
The team, ranging from officers who’d been on the job for just a few years to long-time department veterans, worked on active listening skills via conversations focusing on people with suicidal thoughts, domestic violence victims, and others in crisis.
“I’m embarrassed that you had to come out here,” a counselor said during one exercise.
“I understand you are embarrassed but you called us and we had to come out here and we are here to help. Just tell me what happened today,” an officer playing a person in need responded, his voice soft and soothing.
Randolph said it is crucial for officers not to zone out during interactions with those in crisis.
“People don’t feel engaged. They feel hurt. Respond with, ‘I can hear the anger in your voice and it seems like this situation has hurt you also.’ A person is going to hear it and feel heard. That is what we want for de-escalation.”