Program pairing Knoxville Police, mental health expert on behavioral calls shows promise

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A pilot program that pairs behavioral health specialist with a Knoxville Police Department officer when responding to emergency calls is off to a good start, the founding agencies said in a press release Monday.

The Knoxville Police Department and McNabb Center said the co-responder pilot program launched in October is an early step in testing alternative models for responding to the more than 270,000 calls for service that KPD receives each year. 

Under the program, the McNabb Center hired a behavioral health specialist, supported by a contract with the city, to respond to calls with KPD officer Thomas Clinton. Clinton, who was recently promoted to sergeant, was chosen to assist in the launch of that program due to his experience as a member of the regional Crisis Intervention Team board and from serving in the field for the past four years as the KPD’s Homeless Outreach Coordinator.  

By pairing the specialist with a KPD officer, the co-responder team is able to assess individuals’ behavioral health needs in real time and help connect those individuals with immediate access to services.

“That tandem unit has addressed multiple calls with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis or substance abuse issues, and subsequently they have been able to divert those individuals from jail to much-needed services. Though the program remains in its infancy stages, we feel that it will continue to allow the KPD to provide more appropriate services to residents in our community,” KPD Chief of Police Eve Thomas said.  

Over the first month and a half of the program, the co-responder team has responded to nearly 40 calls for service.

Those calls include:

  • Assisting 19 individuals with suicide ideation.
  • Conducting 12 welfare checks.
  • Responding to assist an individual in crisis following a reported shooting.

The co-responder team has spent an average of more than an hour on each call, and also conducted 38 follow-ups.

“A behavioral health specialist brings a unique perspective to the partnership with Knoxville Police Department,” Candace Allen, senior director of adult intensive outpatient services for the McNabb Center, said. “We know how important it is to decriminalize mental illness and addictions and to provide referrals to treatment in lieu of jail whenever appropriate. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with KPD to affect change in our community.” 

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