Nashville expanding mental health worker, police partnership
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville announced that it will expand a pilot project that pairs mental health professionals with police after the program’s first seven months yielded promising results.
The announcement comes roughly a week after nine law enforcement officers — including six from Metro Nashville Police — fatally shot a man walking on Interstate 65. Officers speaking to him for about 30 minutes failed to de-escalate the situation. Landon Eastep’s wife, Chelesy Eastep, later told reporters her husband had woken up “agitated” and decided to go for a walk to calm down. Eastep’s death sparked a call for greater focus on mental health crisis response.
The Partners in Care program teams masters-level clinicians with Nashville officers on calls flagged as potential mental health crises. The pilot launched in June 2021 and will continue through June 2022. The city last week announced plans to expand the services from two precincts to three and offer additional resources to the county’s remaining five precincts, the Tennessean reported.
Results from the second quarter released last week showed clinicians accompanied police on 247 calls. Only 4% resulted in arrest and fewer than 1% resulted in use of force. In nearly 35% of those calls, someone was transported to a hospital or the Crisis Treatment Center.
“It is the right resource at the right time, and certainly last week’s tragic incident demonstrates the importance of this work,” Metro Senior Policy Advisor on Public Health and Safety Dia Cirillo said during a presentation of the program’s second quarter report.
All Nashville precincts have access to the city’s mobile crisis team, but the Partners in Care program allows clinicians to arrive on scene with officers to provide immediate assessments.
“When somebody’s in a state of crisis like that, it’s really easy for them to become more and more agitated as time goes on,” said Nashville Police Officer Donovan Coble, who is part of the pilot. Officer Gabriel Centeno said having a mental health professional present who is not in a police uniform helps people to open up, shifting the conversation away from law enforcement and toward mental health care.
Lt. Anthony Brooks said the pairing gives officers alternatives.
“In the past ... an officer might go out to a call and maybe even think that jail might not be the best place for this person,” Brooks said, “But with our training and experience, the only option we would have is to arrest them for the violation of the law — whether it be trespassing or public intoxication or something — in hopes that, maybe, they can get connected to services through Mental Health Court.”
People who call 911 may not identify a situation as a mental health issue, Department of Emergency Communications Director Stephen Martini said. Instead, calls may come in as reports of a suspicious person or disorderly behavior. So dispatchers are trained to ask a series of questions to help identify whether a situation could be a mental health crisis. Following Eastep’s killing, Martini said the program may expand the types of calls for service that qualify, possibly to include requests for backup from a neighboring agency.
Metro is also exploring a non-law enforcement model — potentially with teams comprised of a medic and a mental health clinician — to complement the Partners in Care program. Metro applied for technical assistance to develop the model from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration last week, Cirillo said.