KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Police Department and Helen Ross McNabb Center are hoping to expand their years-long partnership through a new pilot program with a focus on behavioral health.

A resolution will go in front of the Knoxville City Council on Tuesday that would create a “pilot program to strengthen law enforcement and behavioral health partnerships and ensure public safety and continuity of care for those in behavioral health crises.”

Up to $95,000 of funding would create a position for one social worker to work alongside a KPD officer. The social worker would specialize in behavioral health issues and provide an on-the-spot assessment, depending on the situation.

During the one-year term, KPD, the McNabb Center, and city leaders would test techniques and find better ways to re-direct people with behavioral health issues away from the justice system. At the same time, providing long-term treatment or care plans.

“We’re trying to develop something now where we don’t charge them with anything. We’re going to get them into some programs without them encountering us at all,” KPD Patrol Captain Don Jones said.

Jones, a 34-year veteran of KPD, said the department has been working to establish community partnerships for more than a decade.

The culmination of this partnership shows through this potential new pilot program: Teaming a social worker with a law enforcement officer.

“This process that we’re entering into now will allow us to spend time together daily to determine what our next steps will be in terms of dealing with undeserved communities,” Capt. Jones said.

Candace Allen, senior director of adult intensive mental health services at the Helen Ross McNabb Center, says this kind of partnership, between law enforcement and the center, is “in their DNA.”

“When it becomes evident that we can step in and asses with an individual in getting them assessed, triaged, and facilitate some kind of treatment or a plan. That’s when i think we’ll be effective. I think the main thing is that it’s right there on the spot… take care of people’s needs immediately,” Allen said.

Allen and Jones agree that they are excited for the research and learning that will come in the next year. At the end of the term, the findings will be presented to the Knoxville City Council.

If the pilot program is approved during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, there is an option to renew the agreement for two additional one-year terms.

The Helen Ross McNabb Center is a nonprofit provider of behavioral health services in East Tennessee. The center works to “recognize and embrace the use of co-occurring treatment practice for individuals who experience both mental health and addiction issues.”

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