Elgin officials consider proposal for mental health professionals to handle more 911 calls
More 911 calls may be handled by mental health professionals in Elgin if city council members approve a budget that calls for expansion of the police department's Collaborative Crisis Services Unit.
The proposal comes as the city's law enforcement continues to respond to residents and council members who believe some calls handled by police might be better resolved by professionals with specific training in substance abuse and the needs of people without permanent housing.
Police Chief Ana Lalley presented the plan to the council this week. It seeks more money to hire a full-time mental health professional who would act as a triage person for incoming 911 calls that only involve a mental health issue. Lalley also wants to hire part-time mental health professional who would join three existing police officers and mental health workers in the unit.
The unit functions by having the officers and mental health professionals follow up on all mental health-related calls to the police department to get people access to services that may prevent future emergency calls.
For instance, Lalley highlighted the unit's work with a local man without permanent housing involving incidents that generated at least 22 police reports, including six drug overdoses. The man was placed in mental health facilities and weekly counseling with the police department's social services unit for a total of 70 hours of police interaction.
Since July 2018, the unit has fielded more than 1,000 suicidal subject calls and more than 2,000 mental health-related calls. Lalley said the police officer sometimes performs 90% of the work involved on those calls, but there are many others where the mental health professional does most of the interaction.
"These are community concerns that require a multilayered approach that brings social service agencies, law enforcement and members of our community together," she said. "Law enforcement tends to be on the leading edge of social problems because of our 24/7 response. We need to recognize each person's experience is different. It's not just the person who may be experiencing mental health-related issues, substance abuse issues or those experiencing homelessness, but also those in the community who may be affected by these concerns."
The council provided positive feedback about the plan. However, some members suggested the unit's mission may be better housed in a city health and human services department. Such a department, which doesn't exist in Elgin, would help remove the criminal stigma of people struggling with mental health and addiction problems.
Other members feared such a department wouldn't be equipped to handle instances where there is an element of crime wrapped into underlying mental health problems.
The council agreed to continue discussing the proper place for the program. It must also take a final vote on the budget next month before Lalley could proceed with any expansion of the Collaborative Crisis Services Unit.