Knoxville law enforcement agencies take new approach to mental i

Knoxville law enforcement agencies take new approach to mental illness

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Some officers have been taking CIT training, focusing on dealing with people with mental health issues. Some officers have been taking CIT training, focusing on dealing with people with mental health issues.
"The information shows you that it's happening all throughout our city: north, south, east, west, it doesn't matter," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. "The information shows you that it's happening all throughout our city: north, south, east, west, it doesn't matter," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.

By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Law enforcement agencies have been solidifying their relationships with the mental health community in recent months.

We're not just talking about dealing with depression, but other forms of mental illness that can also put a person and their family in crisis.

You may think most calls involving mental illness come from the streets, but that's simply not true.

"The information shows you that it's happening all throughout our city: north, south, east, west, it doesn't matter," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.

Knoxville police have mapped out where mental health calls come from. There were a total of 3,200 mental crisis calls for help in the city last year.

Officers know when responding to these calls, anything can happen.

"They don't necessarily do what's rational or normal," Chief Rausch says. "That's the piece that causes the additional stress to police."

There were almost 1,200 public intoxication calls in Knoxville last year.

Many times, there is a strong connection with mental illness; people self-medicating whether they realize it or not.

The so-called public drunk may be battling dual issues.

Ben Harrington of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee says it's a double-edged sword.

"They've got not only a mental illness, but they've also got that addiction," he said.

A drying out period is required before treatment begins.

In recent months, KPD, the Knox County Sheriff's Office, and University of Tennessee Police have started Crisis Intervention Team training.

The model was developed in Memphis in 1988, but is only now being embraced in Knoxville.

As Chief Rausch says, today, everyone recognizes the need for extra officer training, which the program provides.

CIT training gives an officer 40 hours of training specifically focused on techniques to use when facing someone in a mental health crisis, helping build on training they already have to negotiate and diffuse what could be a violent situation.

Right now, KPD has one CIT-trained officer per squad for a total of 20.

The chief hopes to one day have this extra training for every officer on the force.

"Every time someone calls us to a scene, we have an opportunity to make lives better. And that's the calling we have."

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