Chicago Expands Crisis Training for Cops | WBEZ
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Chicago Expands Crisis Training for Cops

911 calls often put Chicago police officers face-to-face with someone having a mental-health crisis and wielding a weapon. Since 2004, the department has been training teams of officers to defuse those crises. But some mental-health emergencies still end up handled by officers without the training. We wondered whatever happened to plans to expand the department's crisis-intervention program. We continue our year-end series.

A 21-year-old with a knife has barricaded his bedroom door shut. A 42-year-old is shattering his mother's mirrors. An 82-year-old is threatening her visitors with a hammer. These were among the year's calls handled by Chicago police officers without their department's 40 hours of training in crisis intervention. Each incident ended with gunfire or Taser shots.

But officers in the crisis-intervention program say it is moving forward. A course last week brought the number of trained officers to 450 -- an improvement but still a fraction of the force. By May, the goal is to have teams in each of the city's 25 districts around the clock. The University of Illinois at Chicago's Amy Watson is studying the program. She says it's in the city's interests to move it forward.

WATSON: Reducing liability for lawsuits, reducing injuries and downtime for officers...

...and generating good press, Watson says, amid police scandals ranging from barroom brawls to burglary rings. But the training still faces resistance.

WATSON: Implementing a program with lawsuits pending regarding mental-health calls could suggest some admission of the police department not acting appropriately.

The program's success may hinge on Jody Weis, who'll take charge of the Chicago police next month if he's confirmed by the city council. A spokeswoman for Weis says she can't respond to questions about whether he'll support the crisis training's expansion.

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