The Oak Park Police Department put its commitment to responsible intervention into action last week during an 18-and-a-half-hour standoff with an at-risk individual experiencing a mental health crisis. The incident was resolved last Friday morning without any injuries and the individual was transported to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Chief Shatonya Johnson (Village of Oak Park)

“We wanted to make sure that we responded appropriately; that we ensured that the community was safe, and that the individual got the help that he needed,” Interim Police Chief Shatonya Johnson told Wednesday Journal. “That was our goal.”

Police were alerted to the mental health crisis last Thursday morning by relatives who were concerned that the individual, who was armed, had blockaded himself in his apartment in the 1100 block of Harlem Avenue. 

No one else was with the individual, despite unsubstantiated hostage claims posted on social media. Johnson, who spent over six hours at the scene, categorically dismissed those rumors.

“There were no hostages involved,” Johnson said. “He was in his own home.”

Officers arrived at the scene around 11 a.m., Thursday and promptly blocked off traffic, then began trying to engage the distressed individual in conversation, letting him know he was safe to come out, according to Johnson. 

After a period of hours, Oak Park police brought in negotiation support from the Cook County Sherriff’s Office. Thrive Counseling Center, which partners with the police department on mental health calls, was not involved in the standoff, as the situation was not safe, according to Johnson. 

The River Forest Police Department assisted in traffic control, while nearby houses of worship allowed the responding officers the use of their restrooms during the long standoff. The interim chief expressed gratitude for all the agencies and organizations that provided support.

Johnson, who is a certified negotiator of 15 years, felt no pressure to reopen the busy street to traffic. Her only concern was keeping the individual calm and getting him to safety. Johnson’s crisis intervention training, and that of the responding officers, prevented feelings of frustration during the lengthy negotiation process. 

“I’ve dealt with many of these,” she said. “The most important thing is to remain calm, patient and to remember the end goal is to resolve the situation with the person in stress getting the help they need and with everyone leaving safely.”

Oak Park police were early adopters of mental health crisis training and teaching de-escalation techniques to all officers. Former chiefs Anthony Ambrose and Rick Tanksley were leaders in this effort over the past 20 years.

The Oak Park Fire Department was on scene for the duration of the lengthy standoff as well, which did not go unnoticed by officers, according to Johnson.

 “I’m sure I’m speaking for [the police department] when I say that we appreciate the support from our extended family, which is the fire department,” she said. 

The individual surrendered himself at 5:20 a.m., Friday morning, ending the standoff. He was then brought to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. He will not be charged with anything as he committed no crimes.

“I just hope that he continues to seek out help and gets what he needs, as well as his family,” Johnson said.

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