Crisis response team — without cops — would be sent to mental health emergencies under proposal

The “Treatment for Trauma” crisis response team would be staffed by paramedics and social workers and run by the Chicago Department of Public Health.

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Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) was one of a group of elected officials and community leaders that met Tuesday morning to voice support for a non-law enforcement crisis response team for those experiencing mental health emergencies. Photo taken on Jan. 11, 2019.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) supports a non-law enforcement crisis response team for people experiencing mental health emergencies.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Community health advocates and some aldermen called Tuesday for creation of a crisis response team that excludes police officers to help people experiencing mental health emergencies.

“Currently, the city’s response to crises has been done and managed exclusively by the city’s police department,” said Arturo Carrillo, lead organizer for the Collaborative for Community Wellness, a citywide coalition of community groups. “As a result, the largest mental health provider in this city and this country is Cook County Jail.”

Instead, Carrillo, a licensed social worker, said the crisis response team would be staffed by paramedics and social workers and operated by the Chicago Department of Public Health. The team would be based out of the city’s five public mental health clinics.

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The “Treatment for Trauma” proposal was introduced at a City Council meeting Sept. 9 and assigned to the Health and Human Relations Committee.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot included a co-response program involving police officers and mental health professionals in a multiyear anti-violence plan unveiled Tuesday.

CDPH did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carrillo said more than three-quarters of Chicago’s population live in communities with less than .2 therapists per 1,000 community residents; the rest of the population has four therapists per 1,000 residents.

Rosa Julia Garcia Rivera, chief operating officer of Gads Hill Center, a group that provides community and mental health services to underserved communities, said the center and its clinicians have seen “a dramatic increase” in the necessity for mental health services and crisis support in the past seven months.

“At the end of the day, the need for services consistently outpaces our resources as a nonprofit,” she said. “We need to find a solution to alleviate the pressure that our police officers are under and respond to our mental health needs with the appropriate intervention.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), a co-sponsor of the “Treatment Not Trauma” proposal, said Chicago police have been in charge of responding to a wide variety of situations, such as homelessness, substance abuse and mental health emergencies.

“That has created a huge problem because we have continued to allocate resources to use police but we have not been allocated the same amount of resources to make sure that people can have a response that is public health based,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

She said similar programs in two West Coast cities have saved the police departments about $8.5 million annually. The Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets programs in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, are run by local clinics and respond to about 20% of service calls to the police departments.

Carmen Orozco, a community leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said she has worked with residents for more than 15 years who have come to her during family or emotional crises.

She said one time, while leading a restorative justice course, a participant reached out to her with an emotional crisis situation. Orozco said she thought about calling the police but was afraid to do so.

“I thought about the economic situation she was dealing with and her immigration status, and in that situation, I would [have] put her in a very difficult position,” Orozco said via Carrillo, who translated.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said people with untreated mental health conditions nationally are 16 times more likely to be killed when they come into contact with law enforcement.

“We need a non-law enforcement emergency crisis response to ensure that when people are in need of help ... they will get the support that they need, and it will not result in an unnecessary arrest, and it will not result in an unnecessary murder or death at the hands of law enforcement,” he said.

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