Kane state's attorney seeks funds for officer crisis training
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon is asking for $40,000 in next year's budget to provide 130 officers in the sheriff's department, as well as the Aurora and Elgin police departments, with crisis intervention training.
Advocates say this training to de-escalate situations is invaluable to get people with mental health issues treatment instead of incarceration, which can save taxpayers money in the long run and hold people accountable without criminal convictions.
"It's much cheaper to treat people in the community than to incarcerate them," said Bill Scown, a volunteer at the Fox River Valley Initiative, an area group seeking to increase access to mental health care and support, and member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva. "Our jails are not equipped to be mental health providers."
For Kane County officials, the challenge is twofold: connecting people with treatment programs after an arrest or incident, and how an officer might respond to an initial offense or disturbance.
"When people buy into treatment programs, the recidivism rate goes way down," McMahon said. He noted authorities are trying to balance between holding offenders accountable and providing treatment options and services "so they don't get caught in this revolving door and keep coming in and out of the system."
McMahon estimates there are about 1,500 total law enforcement officers in Kane County and about 150 to 200 of them have some type of crisis intervention training. The $40,000 in funding will train 130 officers in the coming year, about 10 percent of law enforcement.
"That's a good step," he said. "I wish we could get 100 percent trained in the next two to three years, but that's not possible. It's a funding challenge. For an officer to go to a (training) program, it's time off the street."
Adrienne McCauley, organizer with the Fox River Valley Initiative, said newly trained officers can become advocates and teachers at their respective departments, which also can budget their own training. "You have to start somewhere to begin to create the energy and will," McCauley said.
Advocates also say more crisis training and delivering better mental health care dovetails well with Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan to decrease the state's prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years.
Barb Thurlby, director of education and advocacy at Hesed House shelter in Aurora and leader at the Fox River Valley Initiative, said officers with crisis intervention training are better equipped to respond to incidents involving mental illness.
De-escalating can be something as simple as how aggressive an officer's stance is when exiting a squad car to lying next to a person with mental health issues and just listening, she said.
"I look at it as a cultural change," Thurlby said.