Five years after closing six of the city's 12 mental health clinics, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stepping up crisis intervention training for Chicago police officers and 911 operators to improve the city's response to emergencies involving people suffering from mental illness, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. The police shootings of Laquan McDonald in 2014 and Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in December are only the most recent examples of incidents where deadly consequences might have been avoided if police officers and 911 operators had been better trained, said Alexa James of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago. Emanuel made it clear on the day he returned to Chicago after cutting short a family vacation to Cuba that re-training was in the works for both police officers and 911 dispatchers.
“This highlights a weakness in the system because they're the first person anybody is going to be calling,” the mayor said of 911 dispatchers. “We have to get to a place across the board — from police, fire, 911 dispatchers, public health — where we're dealing with mental health illness as a mental health illness issue not as a criminal issue. And that's what I want as a goal in the training.” Emanuel's first city budget consolidated the city's mental health clinics from 12 to six. State funding cutbacks subsequently stifled crisis intervention training with a proved track record for decreasing injuries to police officers and individuals in crisis, reducing arrest rates and increasing referrals to mental health treatment. The Laquan McDonald shooting, which triggered a federal civil rights investigation, has prompted the mayor to do an about-face when it comes to the issue of how Chicago's first responders can best serve people suffering from mental illness.