Mental health experts to respond with police to to some Rockford emergency calls

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford city leaders announced a new pilot program Wednesday which would send mental health professionals alongside police officers to answer certain 911 calls.

At a press conference, Rockford Mayor Thomas McNamara, Police Chief Dan O’Shea, and Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana, along with Rosecrance President Dave Gomel announced a three-month Co-Responder Pilot Program, which would pair law enforcement with clinicians to respond to calls that involve a person experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

“This new model will provide law enforcement with appropriate alternatives to arrest,” said O’Shea. “Working with Rosecrance on these calls will allow us to better serve the residents of our community.”

Police officers and Rosecrance personnel will train together, based on metrics gathered in the months of November, December and January. Data will be collected during the three-month window to measure the effectiveness of the program. City leaders are hopeful a permanent program will be established.

Chief O’Shea admits that his officers aren’t experts when it comes to mental health service calls. He’s hopeful the new program will help local first responders be better equipped to help people in crisis.

“We are in no way, shape, or form mental health workers trained to deal with [a] mental health crisis or behavioral crisis,” the chief said. “Police don’t want to go to mental health calls. We train them to deal with it on a very superficial, quick triage level.”

O’Shea also said they’ll be proactive and visit people who have had multiple 911 calls in the past in hopes of preventing a more serious call.

“An individual in a mental health crisis does not need to be arrested and go to jail. An individual in a mental health crisis does not need to sit in the emergency department for two or three days while we try to find an appropriate bed, which is a big issue in our region,” said Rosecrance President Dave Gomel.

“We can’t wait until we have this long-term stream of funding. The need is today, and we need to do a better job today of taking care of our citizens and making sure they get the care and resources they need,” Mayor McNamara said.

“We have long acknowledged the need to quickly help individuals who are experiencing a serious mental health episode, and through this pilot program we will identify how we can truly help individuals who need professional services, not jail,” said Caruana.

The program is expected to launch on November 1st.

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