Schaumburg police readying first-of-its-kind mobile response unit for mental health care

Schaumburg police are preparing to deploy what's believed to be the suburbs' first mobile response unit to serve as an alternative to traditional law enforcement for crisis situations and other calls involving mental health issues and substance misuse.

Police Chief Bill Wolf said the program, funded with $340,000 in federal money, represents the next step in the merging of social services and law enforcement responsibilities. The hope is that it will evolve into a multijurisdictional resource for other communities in the area.

"This is something unique," Wolf said. "We're very lucky in Schaumburg to have three full-time social workers as is. This is a way for us to get out in the community. We're basically looking at people who are in crisis. Our goal is to have the social workers dealing directly with the people who are in crisis immediately."

The program not only will provide greater outreach, but help cater to clients with transportation issues, including homeless people, Wolf added.

Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly said the mobile unit reflects a growing health care trend in which providers go to patients rather than expecting the opposite.

"I'm not aware of anyone else doing this," Dailly said. "If we don't do this, what do we do? The hospitals are trying to go out into the community. The good thing is it frees up doctors' time."

Wolf said social workers, therapists and police officers are learning more about each others' jobs in the current environment, to the benefit of all of them.

The mobile unit is hoped to be launched before the end of the year in a van that will be equipped as a meeting place and marked as a Schaumburg response vehicle.

Funding for the vehicle and the added staffing needed to operate initially will come entirely from federal dollars secured by Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg.

Dailly said the village's application for the funding wasn't a shoo-in without Krishnamoorthi's support.

"I'll be quite frank, I'm surprised that we got this," Dailly said. "He certainly steered it through."

Krishnamoorthi attended a presentation of the funding to the village last month, and later released a statement about his support for the program. In it, he noted that since the start of the pandemic, the nation has seen an exponential increase in 911 calls for mental health care, including an 891% hike in calls to the Disaster Distress Hotline in just a single year.

"Despite the courageous efforts of our police officers, resources are stretched thin," Krishnamoorthi said. "This mobile response unit will tackle the complex issues of mental health and substance abuse by using multidisciplinary approaches that are proven to provide effective de-escalation through welfare checks, emergency counseling, and transportation to treatment centers. Protecting our community demands we provide our first responders with the resources they need, and this program will do precisely that."

Wolf said the mobile response unit will never operate with fewer than two people. At first, it will be staffed with a newly hired social worker and a police officer.

"We would want someone who has experience dealing with people in crisis," Wolf said of the new social worker.

Staffing could eventually change to two social workers, instead of one paired with a police officer, if the nature of the unit's work warrants it, Wolf added. But experience will guide the evolution of the program.

Among the police department's partners on the project is the Elk Grove Village Cares program, which provides assistance to those battling substance misuse; the Start Here Addiction Rehabilitation and Education (SHARE) program based in Hoffman Estates; the Kenneth Young Center in Elk Grove Village; and Live4Lali in Arlington Heights.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said he sees a strong potential for the Schaumburg program to help its neighbors in the same way his village's 4-year-old opioid addiction program has.

"It's a phenomenal step forward," Johnson said. "Any way we can do a better job reaching out to people makes all the sense in the world."

The Elk Grove Village Cares program's most recent annual grant was for $150,000, reflecting that it's now serving a demand beyond the village's borders.

"We work with more towns every day," Johnson said. "That's exactly what we always envisioned happening."

Tom Dailly
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson
  The Schaumburg Police Department is preparing to launch an innovative mobile response unit for mental health and substance misuse care later this year with $340,000 in recently received federal funding. Eric Peterson/, 2015
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