Impact of partnering Metro officers, mental health counselors

by Kelly Avellino, Fox17 News

Metro Nashville Police’s program partnering patrol officers with mental health clinicians just expanded to its fifth precinct this May, Midtown Hills.

The Partners in Care program has proven to help people in emotional crises, getting them resources, instead of an arrest.

“We’ve seen about 3,000 mental health calls since the start of the program. We have around a little bit less than a 4% arrest rate,” said Michael Randolph, program manager for the Partners in Care program, through the Mental Health Cooperative.

Randolph says 60% of these crisis situations are resolved on scene.

“We have major goals here, to get people out of the criminal justice system and into the healthcare system,” Randolph said.

In 2021, Metro Nashville Police began partnering officers with clinicians in just two precincts. Counselors ride with officers, responding foremost to mental health calls. Many of those incidences can easily be traumatic and dangerous, involving someone who is actively suicidal or homicidal, according to counselor Haley Moore.

Moore works in the North precinct, teamed up daily with an officer Monday through Friday. She has no weapons. Instead, Moore is outfitted with a police radio, bullet proof vest, and snacks.

“It’s amazing how somebody who is super escalated can calm down over some peanut butter crackers,” said Moore.

I’m seeing people in their worst situations, in their worst and darkest days. To be able to say, ‘I’m here. I hear you. I understand what you’re saying. I want to help you,’ can be so helpful.

But how much of an impact can having a counselor on a police scene help in a situation with an active shooter or someone making threats with a gun?

On Jan. 29 of this year, a man was reportedly cocking and waving a gun on Buchanan Street in North Nashville, while dancing in the street.

“You got a guy out here with a gun, walking down the street, threatening people,” said the caller to a 911 dispatcher. “Security and everybody (are) trying to have restraint.”

The caller continued, voicing concern that someone could get hurt, including the man with the gun himself, since the caller said he believed the man to be possibly mentally unstable.

“I don’t want the police to come and he’s like mentally disabled or something like thatY’all need to come get him, though.”

A three-year police officer arrived on the scene. Metro Police say the man with the weapon refused to follow orders to drop the gun, turning towards the officer in a threatening way, with the weapon.

The officer can be heard screaming on his body camera video, “Do not touch that! Drop the gun! Drop the gun!”

Eighteen seconds after the officer got out of his car, the man brandishing the gun was shot and killed by police. The death raised the recurring question of whether more mental health resources are needed during police calls.

“In watching that video, it was hard for me to say that that level of force was justified, especially with the number of people in the surrounding area,” said Jasper Henricks, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Black Caucus, several days after the incident in an interview with FOX 17 News.

Police did not yet have the staffing for a Partners in Care (PIC) team during the Buchanan Street incident, which happened on a weekend when clinician-police teams are not on duty. However, PIC continues to expand, with co-response teams now in five precincts: North, Central, Hermitage, South, and Midtown Hills.

Metro has also trained 200 officers in crisis intervention, who are now able to team-up with some 15 PIC clinicians. The city proposed $2.1 million in its 2024 budget to expand the program to all precincts by the end of 2024.

But are efforts like Partners in Care significantly impacting overall police use of force, particularly officer-involved shootings?

According to Metro Police data, in 2020, the year before the PIC program started, there were 199 events involving some sort of use of force by police. That could be anything from simply leading someone in cuffs to firing a gun. In 2022, when multiple precincts had the PIC program, there were 299 events.

Officers who fired their weapon also increased from nine to 17 incidences. Taser use went up as well, from 58 taser deployments to 72.

However, physical use of force in some categories, like take downs, went down from 2020, where there were 99 take downs, compared to 2022, which has 72 take downs. There were also 135 grappling incidents in 2020, versus just 50 in 2022.

Metro Police officials say it’s difficult to compare use-of-force data relative to the PIC program because the co-response teams are still not in all precincts, and were introduced months apart.

“I believe we are keeping these people out of jail and swinging them away from the criminal justice system, which is not only saving the city money, it also is helping people with the problems they really need help with,” said Randolph. “And getting to the underlying cause of why they’re interacting with law enforcement.”

Randolph said the PIC program is potentially helping avoid an incident that could result in use of force by either the person in crisis or police.

A new pilot program pairing behavioral health clinicians with paramedics also launched this year in Nashville, called REACH. So far, the Mayor John Cooper said the REACH program has responded to over 157 incidents, with most being resolved on site- removing the need for a police response or an ER visit.

Source: FOX 17 News | WZTV