DuPage United pushing for more mental health resources, safer gun practices
Two police cars were waiting for Betsi Terpin when she pulled up to her Naperville home a year ago.
The 23-year-old has bipolar disorder and had been using drugs to help her cope. On that March afternoon, her boyfriend called 911 after she told him that she wanted to end her life.
Police were able to de-escalate the situation and call an ambulance to take Terpin to the emergency room, she told nearly 300 members of DuPage United on Sunday. But after a lengthy and expensive hospital stay, she said, she doesn't feel she received appropriate treatment.
"That chapter of my story ended peacefully thanks to those officers and their training, but going to the ER was not the solution I needed," Terpin said. "What I needed that day was a crisis stabilization center where a mental health professional could have provided me with resources to process what I was experiencing in a healthier way."
Bringing crisis stabilization units to DuPage County -- and pressuring the state to implement a better funding mechanism for such services -- was one of a handful of goals outlined by DuPage United members during an assembly Sunday in Lombard. The nonprofit also is pushing for more affordable housing options and safer gun practices.
DuPage United has been working with the sheriff's and state's attorney's offices the last few years to offer crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers in the county, said Debbie Fulks of Faith Lutheran Church of Glen Ellyn. More than 700 officers have been trained to date, she said, exceeding the group's pledge to train 25 percent of all area officers by the end of 2020.
That training is one of several initiatives being implemented in the county to keep people with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system and provide them with the help they need, Sheriff James Mendrick said. He and State's Attorney Robert Berlin vowed to continue seeking more resources, including crisis stabilization units.
"Our biggest problem in DuPage County is mental health," Mendrick said. "There are so many reasons and causations for the issues we're dealing with, not only in DuPage, but nationwide (and) worldwide. So it only stands to reason that with the multitude of causations, there has to be a multitude of remedies. We're looking at it from a very holistic approach."
DuPage United members also are working to reduce gun violence through a national gun safety campaign, Do Not Stand Idly By. The initiative aims to pressure manufacturers to require that guns be sold with locks, change their distribution methods and reduce the number of illegally purchased guns that are used for crime, said Benjamin Weiskopf of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard.
DuPage County leaders have been trying to be proactive in making sure guns stay off the streets and don't get into the wrong hands, Berlin and Mendrick said. A new law in effect this year allows family members or police officers to petition a judge to take away a person's firearm if they believe he or she is a danger to themselves or others. That law has safely and successfully been put into practice three times so far in DuPage County.
"We have to think outside the box on what more we can do," Mendrick said. "We're here to keep you safe, and that's what we're going to do."
DuPage United leaders encouraged members to get involved in various meetings and workshops aimed at pushing these initiatives forward. They also are working with Illinois Metro IAF in hopes of setting up an assembly with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.