The city of Chicago is planning to launch a pilot program in the fall that will send a paramedic and a mental health professional out to respond to 911 calls instead of police.
There are actually two programs slated to launch in the coming months. One will send a mental health expert along with a paramedic for "behavioral health calls." The other will send a paramedic and a "recovery specialist" for calls related to substance abuse.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Chicago municipal government is considering this program – dubbed the "Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement" program – to be a "public health approach" to the 911 system.
Alex Heaton, the policy adviser for public safety to Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, said:
"We’re super excited. This is a brand new workforce for the city, and it’s an exciting opportunity to use a public health approach for people likely to come in contact with the first responder system."
"Are we reducing calls from an individual? Is it cost-effective? And are we able to connect folks with places that can address their medical concerns? Are we able to engage these organizations to make 911 not be the go-to place?"
"The only options now are the ER or the lockup. But in this pilot ... they’ll bring you [possibly somewhere else], help stabilize you and connect you with follow-up resources."
According to the Daily Mail, "The initiatives aim to both ensure people suffering a mental health crisis get the help they need rather than face criminalization and free police up for tackling crime, amid a mass exodus of cops from the force."
"A total of 363 officers retired from the Chicago Police Department between January and June this year, with another 56 on track to quit in July, according to figures from the police pension board."
"If the trend continues, the mass departure will even dwarf the 560 retirements last year, when swathes of officers quit amid protests over the police murder of George Floyd and demands to defund the police."
Chicago over the past year has been buffeted by skyrocketing crime rates, along with violent riots requiring increased police presence, in the middle of a severe personnel shortage.
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