Knoxville City Council discussing alternatives to police response for nonviolent 911 calls

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville City Council gathered Thursday for a workshop on alternatives to nonviolent 911 calls. The council is reviewing the Knoxville Police Department’s co-response pilot program, the plans for its expansion, and initial research related to alternative response.

One proposal being discussed is an alternative response team that pairs a behavioral health specialist with a medic. This team would be dispatched to nonviolent 911 calls including conflict resolution, wellness checks, substance use, suicidal ideation, and related mental issues. Many community members and mental health professionals support an alternative response team as a way to take police out of encounters that they are not needed for.

Amilia James, a licensed clinical social worker and member of Knoxville Healing East Tennessee Alternative Response Team, better known as Knoxville HEART, says in the case of mental health crises, substance abuse or mediation, police are not always needed.

“If a call involves a mental health or substance abuse crisis, houselessness, a mediation dispute, the police don’t need to respond to those. A behavioral health specialist, a medic can respond to those calls and meet the needs of that person,” James said.

Knoxville HEART is advocating for an Alternative response program, which is different from the current co-response program. Alternative response requires an alternative call system rather than having a police officer respond to every call.

The next steps for the current co-response program is expansion. The McNabb center will be hiring 3 additional behavioral specialists to be partnered with KPD officers.

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