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Alternative to police intervention in mental health incidents in Chicago proposed | The race

Councilors seek the initiative to be included in the 2021 budget proposal

He weighs 250 pounds and every time he gets upset he gets aggressive and hits his parents and siblings. Juan Ruiz, Jorge Ruiz’s father, says that the situation has gotten out of control several times because his son has a lot of strength and it is difficult for him to control it.

Every time he throws his tantrum it is because he wants to achieve something, it is a way of manipulating, says Juan Ruiz about his son Jorge. The man mentions that when the situation gets difficult he can only call 911. “My son Jorge is autistic, he is 30 years old, but his mental maturity is equal to that of a four-year-old.”

Ruiz has called 911 and 311 but what he wants is a quick response line with clinical social workers who can assist people like his son. “When calling 911, the police tell me ‘your son is disabled, we can’t do anything.’ And when I call the 311 line, they take him to the hospital, give him a medicine, wait for him to calm down for a few days, return him home and two days later he comes back aggressive, ”Ruiz points out. “Jorge is very friendly, he likes to touch people, but when something doesn’t seem like it is when he gets aggressive.”

In that sense, District 33 councilor Rossana Rodríguez sponsors a proposal that would seek to create 24-hour crisis response units in the city that would be made up of a clinical social worker, an emergency technician and a registered nurse.

That proposal includes the creation of a rapid response line for mental health crises, but also for other non-violent incidents. “We are proposing the creation of a line, but we also want 911 to be able to divert calls that go to 911 for this rapid response, crisis response line,” Rodríguez said.

She wants mental health workers, clinical social workers and EMTs to be available who can go out to work with emergencies that do not require police or armed officers.

It is intended that the initiative be included in the 2021 budget proposal of the city of Chicago, for which Rodríguez and seven councilors submitted an order of advice to the Health and Human Relations Committee of the municipality on September 9.

“We are proposing a non-police alternative to respond to emergencies in the city of Chicago,” said District 35 councilor Carlos Ramírez Rosa, who is one of the councilors supporting the proposal. “We know that the vast majority of the calls that 911 receives are for non-violent matters, they are matters where the vast majority of times the people calling or for whom they are calling are not armed, they are not doing violent things, but they are in a crisis”.

This is an important first step in reducing civilian interaction with law enforcement during a mental health crisis, says Dr. Arturo Carrillo, Director of Health and Violence Prevention for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and organizer for the Community Welfare Collaborative Association.

“Chicago has huge disparities in access to mental health services for the South and West side communities,” Carrillo said. “We cannot continue to rely on the police to fill these gaps in our mental health system.”

This team of professionals would have as its center of operations the five public mental health clinics in the city.

This measure would allow people to have follow-up in a clinic that is close to them and can be free of costs, thereby trying to make access to mental health more accessible, according to Rodríguez.

“The city has five mental health clinics that are now able to continue assisting more people, we want that monitoring and that structure that already exists to be strengthened through this initiative,” said Carrillo.

The measure would include, in part, that public mental health centers include community and consumer oversight by establishing a community advisory council at each center.

Right now, the Chicago Police are taking charge of mental health crises, intoxication problems, controlled substance abuse problems, homeless problems. All of these things, Rodríguez says, are being delegated to the police “and all it has done is it puts people at risk because the police don’t know how to handle mental health emergencies.”

Rodríguez adds that the financing of the proposal is now being discussed. “We are discussing the diversion of funds that are being used for police work in the city. We are looking at the overtime budget and we are looking at other spaces and other areas of the Chicago Police budget ”.

“If the police do not have to have so many crisis calls and instead we have social workers and paramedics at the disposal of people in crisis, there will be no need for extra time for police officers, then dedicate those funds to professionals who are trained. to deal with this type of crisis, ”Carrillo told La Raza.

The Chicago Police Department budget for 2020 is $ 1.76 billion.


Rodríguez’s initiative is based on the ‘Crisis Assistance Helping Out on The Streets’ (CAHOOTS) model, a program that provides services such as crisis counseling, suicide prevention and intervention, conflict resolution and help against substance abuse, among others. In Eugene, Oregon, they have been developing it for 31 years.

That program already exists in Colorado and Oregon and has been very successful, Ramírez Rosa said. “The police are responding to everything at the moment and they do not have the training or the necessary tools to respond to those kinds of situations, the tools they do have is a gun and we have seen what happens when someone is in a mental health crisis and we send the police, in several cases the result is that someone dies and that is what we do not want to see, we want people to have the support they need ”.

Rodríguez’s proposal is supported by the councilors of District 1 Daniel LaSpata, District 20 Jeannette Taylor, District 35 Carlos Ramírez-Rosa, District 25 Byron Sigcho López, District 40 Andre Vazquez, District 47 Matthew Martin, and District 49 Maria Hadden. Rodríguez says two more have offered their support so far: District 46 James Cappleman and District 22 Mike Rodríguez.

It is planned to have a hearing between the Health and Human Relations Committee and the Budget Committee to review the proposal, but the date has not yet been defined, Rodríguez told La Raza.

Editorial coverage of La Raza is made possible in part by the Chicago Community Trust, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism / Facebook Journalism Project, and the Google News Initiative. We appreciate your support of our journalistic work.