Top Cop: Gun Laws Prevent Officers From Seeking Help For Mental Illness | WBEZ
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Chicago’s Top Cop Says Gun Laws Prevent Officers From Seeking Help For Mental Illness

In Chicago, police officers are required to purchase their service guns. That means they also must have an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification card, known as a FOID card.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said on Friday that one of the requirements for a FOID card could also be preventing some officers from getting mental health treatment.

According to state law, residents who have received inpatient treatment for mental illness in the past five years are barred from getting a FOID card. And those cards can be revoked: medical professionals must report anyone who voluntarily checked into a psychiatric unit. 

Johnson said those laws discourage police officers from seeking mental illness treatment.

“If we punish officers for seeking treatment ... what message are we sending?” Johnson asked during an unrelated press conference Friday. “We are telling them then that, if you ask for help, we are going to punish you by taking your job away.”

Kevin Graham, head of the union that represents Chicago police officers, expressed concern about the FOID requirements last May. 

“It’s an important thing for … police officers to be able to not be worried about pursuing mental health goals for fear of losing their FOID card,” Martin Prieb, vice president of the police union, said Friday.

The issue isn’t unique to Chicago.

Western Illinois University law and justice administration professor Todd Lough said many officers in Illinois end up obtaining a FOID card — whether or not their department requires it — because not having one “ends up causing a hassle for the officers when they try to buy guns or ammo on their own time.”

Johnson said Friday that he has had conversations with heads of other Illinois police department, as well as the director of the Illinois State Police, about the FOID requirements. 

State Police Director Leo Schmitz and Johnson “have discussed that any changes to the FOID act would require legislative changes,” said Master Sgt. Jason Bradley, a state police spokesman.

Miles Bryan is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @miles__bryan.

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