Elgin police increase focus on mental health reasons for calls

 
 
Updated 10/20/2018 4:16 PM
hello
  • Elgin police Detective Anthony Rigano, center, and an intern from Ecker Center for Mental Health helped respond to a call about a suicidal man. The work is part of Rigano's new assignment focused on connecting residents with mental health help.

      Elgin police Detective Anthony Rigano, center, and an intern from Ecker Center for Mental Health helped respond to a call about a suicidal man. The work is part of Rigano's new assignment focused on connecting residents with mental health help. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin police Detective Anthony Rigano said getting mental health help for people increases the safety of residents and officers, lessens the load for emergency responders, and results in fewer emergency room and ambulance bills for people.

      Elgin police Detective Anthony Rigano said getting mental health help for people increases the safety of residents and officers, lessens the load for emergency responders, and results in fewer emergency room and ambulance bills for people. Rick West | Staff Photographer

About a month ago, Elgin police Detective Anthony Rigano visited the home of a woman who had called police twice to report imaginary threats and encouraged her to stick to her mental health treatment.

In early October, Rigano spent two hours on a porch talking through a window to a suicidal man inside the house and helped him calm down and get treatment.

On Thursday, he went to court to advocate for an 18-year-old who suffers from mental health issues and was charged with retail theft.

The work is part of Rigano's new assignment: focusing on mental health in partnership with the police department's social services unit and Ecker Center for Mental Health in Elgin.

The detective helps respond to 911 calls that might involve mental health crises and does follow-up home and court visits for residents who have had contact with police and might have mental health issues.

The goal of the new initiative is to connect people to treatment, Rigano said. "We come into contact with people who need these services," he said. "We have to act as that lightning rod for that person who needs services, and help direct them there."

That, in turn, increases the safety of residents and officers, reduces the load for emergency responders, and results in fewer emergency room and ambulance bills for people, he said.

"The odds that we are going to encounter that same person again are a lot higher when they have mental health issues than when they don't," he said.

Most of the time social services and Ecker Center interns accompany Rigano, who did about 40 home visits in the last month.

During the call two weeks ago, for example, the Ecker Center intern performed an assessment and devised a crisis care plan for the man who felt suicidal, including follow-up in the evening and an appointment the next day, Rigano said. That allowed the other officers on the scene to leave much earlier than usual and the situation to be resolved without a trip to the hospital.

Rigano's supervisor, Cmdr. Frank Trost, said the initiative is part of Elgin police's commitment to effective response regarding people with mental health issues.

By next week, about 90 percent of the department, including community resources officers, will have gone through the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, training program, which teaches how to spot symptoms of mental illness and how to persuade someone to seek mental health help without arresting them and taking them to the emergency room.

"This is a department mindset," Trost said, "and the biggest piece is the whole collaboration effort."

Rigano, a 14-year veteran who also works as a CIT trainer for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, agreed.

"A lot of departments do CIT, but a lot of departments aren't doing this proactive approach," he said.

He pointed to the police department in Rochester, Minnesota, which hired a social worker to help respond to mental health crisis calls as part of a pilot program launched last year.

Karen Beyer, CEO of Ecker Center, said Elgin is among "a few forward-thinking police departments" across the country actively engaging in partnerships with mental health workers.

Besides the primary benefit of connecting residents to mental health resources, the collaboration also decreases the overall stigma about mental health issues, she said.

Beyer also praised Rigano's skills.

"He puts people at ease. He just makes them feel like he's there to help them," she said.

Rigano said it's all about people voluntarily disclosing information, and not everyone is amenable to that. "Sometimes people see it's the police and they close the door," he said.

When he does manage to establish rapport, he said, he also wants to find out how people feel about police.

"What are some of the bad experiences you have had with police, and what could we have done differently?" he said. "That's important, so the next officer is armed with the most important thing we could be armed with -- which is to be armed with information."

Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.