Burke proposes mental health response unit within CPD

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Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) want the Chicago Police Department to create a Mental Health Critical Response Unit. | Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department would create a Mental Health Critical Response Unit to train and support officers responding to emergencies involving people with mental illness under a plan proposed Monday by the City Council’s most powerful alderman.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) joined forces with Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, on an ordinance that would adopt a recommendation by the Task Force on Police Accountability to create a Mental Health Critical Response Unit within the police department.

The unit would preside over “mental health crisis response functions, crisis intervention team training, community outreach and engagement, cross-agency coordination and data collection,” Burke said.

It would be supervised by a lieutenant or higher-ranked officer presiding over at least eight full-time police officers, mental health service providers and a full-time data analyst. The unit would also be required to communicate daily with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications about the crisis team officers on duty in each district.

Burke said he and Cochran have been meeting with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago and the Kennedy Forum to discuss the issue of mentally ill people who are either arrested or come in contact with the police.

“It seems that the incidents are rising and that the Police Accountability Task Force has noted this to be one of their goals,” Burke said.

“It is our aim that the hallmarks of this unit will be a high degree of specialized training and compassion. … If this unit is successful, the long-term result may be fewer people with mental illness having repeat contact with the police and less contact with the justice system.”

Last month, the City Council authorized a $4.95 million settlement to the family of a 38-year-old man who suffered a mental breakdown, was shocked 13 times with a Taser and was subsequently handcuffed and dragged from his cell by Chicago Police officers. A federal judge ruled that the incident, which was caught on video, amounted to “brute force.”

When Philip Coleman’s parents reportedly pleaded with the officers to take their son to Jackson Park Hospital because of his aggressive and bizarre behavior, a sergeant told them, “We don’t do hospitals. We do jail.”

Burke demanded to know why police protocols put in place after the 2006 death of Christina Eilman were not followed.

Chicago taxpayers spent $22.5 million to compensate Eilman, the mentally ill California woman who was arrested at Midway Airport in 2006, then released in a high-crime neighborhood where she was sexually assaulted before falling or being pushed from a CHA high-rise.

“The police bureaucracy failed this young woman and the police bureaucracy failed this [Coleman] family,” Burke said.

Referring to the Eilman case, “This should have been a clarion call. It should have been a wake-up call to the police department. Yet, here we are 10 years later with a [Coleman] case that’s eerily similar.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped up crisis intervention training for police officers and 911 call takers to improve the city’s response to emergencies involving people with mental illness.

The changes included a 50 percent increase in crisis intervention training for police officers and at least one in every district on every watch; full Crisis Intervention Training certification for all field training officers and newly promoted officers; eight hours of in-service training on mental health awareness for all police officers and improved training for all 911 operators and dispatchers.

Also on Monday, the Finance Committee:

• Agreed to pay $2.2 million to the family of 23-year-old Emmanuel Lopez, who was shot to death by Chicago Police officers in 2005, and $1 million to settle a lawsuit involving the police shooting of 27-year-old Ryan Rogers.

• Signed off on a resolution renaming Chicago’s South Water Filtration Plant in honor of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

• Approved an ordinance requiring Chicago’s police superintendent to refer all cases involving the death of a suspect in custody to the state’s attorney’s office.

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