We were heartened to hear Larry Snelling express support for a mental health alternative to the police in responding to 911 calls at his first press conference after being nominated as Chicago’s next police superintendent.
“If we have mental health calls that can be handled by someone outside the Chicago Police Department,” Snelling said Aug. 14, “that would really be very helpful to the Chicago Police Department.”
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That mindset parallels enthusiasm for mental health 911 alternatives from police leaders around the country. When Denver established such an alternative on a pilot basis in several districts, the police chief said other officers began asking why it was not operating in their districts, and it was soon expanded successfully citywide.
Snelling’s support is timely because the state is moving forward with the Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA). That act, passed two years ago by a coalition led by Access Living, requires that no later than July 1, 2024, every 911 district in the state must refer appropriate calls to a non-police mental health alternative crisis response.
State committees including 911 operators, state police, community representatives and other key leaders have been at work developing protocols to guide 911 operators in directing calls and setting out other key system elements.
The state has made grants to institutions and agencies already providing this mobile mental health response. In Chicago, the grants have gone to hospitals and private institutions. But in other counties, grantees have included public agencies like mental health clinics. Left to implement is the process for connecting calls for help to mobile mental health responders.
Chicago’s community mental health clinics would be an ideal locus for mobile crisis response.
The city’s approach up until now has been limited largely to a pilot program in several districts for joint response by police and mental health professionals to some 911 calls. That joint approach makes sense when there is an indication of violence, but evidence from systems operating around the country shows mental health professionals can respond successfully to the vast majority of mental health calls without need for police support.
Snelling could soon be in a position to put good ideas into action. If he works with other city agencies and the state in its CESSA implementation, he can make a non-police 911 response an important early success.
CEO Karen Tamley and Vice President of Advocacy Amber Smock, Access Living
Cruising for migrant housing solutions
Instead of ‘winterized base camps’ for housing migrants, why not buy an unused cruise ship and dock it at the lakefront? Instant private accommodation with attached bathrooms, large kitchens and dining halls, and even some fun features like pools and water slides, weather permitting.
No one wants to get out of bed to use the restroom and have no choice but to walk outside to the portable toilets, especially in Chicago in January.
Sandra Minor, McHenry