Arlington Heights police bring on full-time crisis counselor despite cut in federal funding

Though federal grant funding runs out this summer, Arlington Heights trustees agreed Monday to commit village funds to keep a police department crisis counselor employed at least through the end of the year.

The counselor has gone on some 300 police calls over the last two years involving people suffering from a mental health crisis, and made another 600 follow-up contacts with individuals seeking assistance, officials said.

The employee works for Ascension Center for Mental Health, which is reimbursed by the police department through the two-year, $250,000 federal grant. But those funds — through the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — are due to dry up.

So village officials decided to make the counselor a full-time village employee as of June — committing $42,800 in salary costs through the end of the year — with the intention of coming up with additional funds to make the civilian position permanent.

Police Chief Nick Pecora said the initial grant funding and program — formally called the Crisis Co-Responder Team — was a “godsend” to the police department. The counselor is on call during the weekday afternoon shift, when Pecora says police get the most 911 calls for domestic disturbances and other situations that require de-escalation.

Arlington Heights Police Chief Nick Pecora recommended to village trustees that a crisis counselor — currently a contractual employee — be brought on as a full-time village employee. Daily Herald File Photo 2019

“Back in the day, we would go to call after call after call, and we put a Band-Aid on it,” Pecora said.

Now, the counselor is “boots on the streets,” he said, providing on-the-spot assistance during moments of crisis, and referrals to additional community resources.

Pecora tried to re-up for another federal grant, but was told prioritization of funding was directed toward other programs.

It’s the second federal grant rejection in recent months, after funding for a police department social worker/victim advocate wasn’t renewed after 19 years. Village officials similarly agreed to fully fund that position starting Jan. 1.

Officials say they will continue to explore additional funding opportunities. They may be able to tap opioid settlement allocations, for instance.

“In today’s society, these critical components within our organizational chart — the social workers, the professional counselors — they’re a need,” Pecora said. “You can’t put more hats on a police officer. You’re just going to stretch him too thin. We need the people that have this narrow focus of delivery of services to help us do the job that we’re sworn to do.”

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