To say that the last 10 years of Ethan Grantham’s life have been interesting is a major understatement. He was an animal control officer for four years. He was a Knoxville Police Department (KPD) patrol officer for five years. Today he’s one of four officers on KPD’s first-ever co-responder team. And he’s only 33.
The team is best described as “a collaboration between law enforcement and the mental health community to improve the way officers in the field respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.” Officers received 40 hours of advanced training for this job. The program pairs Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained police officers with behavioral health specialists and is a partnership between the KPD and the McNabb Center.
Joining Grantham on the team are Officers Tim Campbell, Matt Lawson and Derek Swartz.
Grantham rides side-by-side five days a week with a “co-responder” partner who is a professional clinician with the McNabb Center. His job sounds simple. It isn’t. His primary mission is to assure the safety of the McNabb professional. He’s also there to support the clinician in working with the individuals they are helping.
They respond to calls involving individuals with mental health issues who may be homicidal or contemplating suicide, people with drug problems who may suffer from psychotic episodes or manic behavior, individuals with dementia and other illnesses. “We respond to any call about a person in crisis,” he said. The calls emanate from the 911 Center, from other officers in the field and from local service providers.
He volunteered for this job and says it is very satisfying work.
“This program is working and making a difference for a lot of people,” he says. “We get a lot of repeat calls and we get to know some of these people who struggle. We work to hold their hands through this whole process to help them find housing and some degree of stability.”
The four, two-person teams work seven days a week, rotating on the 10-hour shifts every two weeks with another McNabb professional. “We cover citywide and we’re going to need more teams at some point,” said Scott Erland, KPD’s public information officer. “There is no shortage of work. These teams stay busy.”
And to that Grantham added this: “We do stay very busy. This is a very rewarding assignment, knowing that we are making long-term impacts on these people and seeing the progress we are making with these individuals.”
Erland said the program allows for follow-ups with patients even after the call has ended. Previously, officers might drop a person off at a hospital or mental health facility and never hear from them again. He said the co-responder model helps ensure that people get the care they need.
Grantham’s path to this assignment is worth mentioning. He accepted a job with the city’s Animal Control & Care unit so he could get a leg up on joining the KPD. That was in 2013 when KPD was not hiring. “Animal control was my way into the KPD. I really enjoyed animal control. I handled some really cool animals – dogs, cats, nuisance bears, raccoons, possums, foxes, herons, squirrels, snakes, coyotes and deer. Once I got a call in the middle of the night and a lady reported that there was a werewolf in her yard. Turned out it was a Pomeranian with a bad skin problem. Too funny.”
Grantham, reared in Fountain City and a 2008 graduate of Halls High School, says that job impacted his career. “It prepared me for my jobs, learning how to talk to people and build relationships in the community because people really take their pets and animals seriously,” he explained. “I’d have to issue citations, but I became good at calming things down and handling things diplomatically.”
Once on patrol, he’s been an outstanding officer. Twice he has been honored as Officer of the Month and in 2019 he was the department’s Co-Officer of the Year. During 2019 he made 10 DUI arrests and six gun arrests, both top-10 figures among all KPD officers; 61 drug arrests, including 36 felony drug offenses; and he arrested 73 with outstanding warrants.
Also, in April 2019, he helped initiate a large-scale investigation involving both the Organized Crime Unit and the Drug-Related Death Task Force after responding to an overdose call. That investigation uncovered a widespread network of heroin and fentanyl trafficking extending from Knoxville to Detroit, and resulted in the federal indictment of 15 individuals for conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl.
Grantham was also responsible for several other large drug seizures. On May 30, 2019, a traffic stop on Underhill Lane resulted in the seizure of over one and a half pounds of marijuana, nearly 25 grams of methamphetamine, over 13 grams of a white powdery substance believed to be heroin, and three firearms.
On July 10, a traffic stop on Middlebrook Pike uncovered over 35 grams of presumed methamphetamine from a rental vehicle out of Detroit.
On July 25, a traffic stop on University Avenue resulted in the seizure of approximately 112 grams of heroin with a street value of about $20,000.
“Both when I was on patrol and my job today involve a lot of stress. Every call I go to is someone in crisis. The tensions are higher. But I have to say I have been very impressed and have learned some things from the McNabb pros about how to talk and interact with people in crisis.”
Grantham, the father of a 7-year-old daughter, shared a call they made recently to a middle school. “A young girl was really angry about something and had been throwing things at people and hitting people and she became non-verbal. She had threatened suicide and was sitting on a bench.
“My McNabb partner sat down next to her and started writing down questions with either a yes or no answer that she could circle on the sheet of paper. After a while her whole demeanor changed and she was talking, laughing and joking with us. It was intervention and de-escalation all at once. What we’re doing matters.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.