Kevin Jackson, Oak Park Village Manager | Provided

The Oak Park taskforce assembled to identify alternative response models for police calls related to mental health situations has turned in its report to the village manager. The taskforce’s findings will be presented to the public during a meeting of the village board tentatively scheduled for June 12. 

“I think it’s important for them to actually report out publicly on the work they did,” said Village Manager Kevin Jackson.

The final report, which took roughly half a year to compile, was handed over to the village manager April 28. Jackson was unable to immediately provide any details into the report’s contents but said he was given an executive overview presentation.

“I was absolutely pleased at the level of thoughtfulness, the commitment from the community – and it really made me feel proud,” said Jackson.

The taskforce was created at the recommendation of police consulting firm BerryDunn to identify how Oak Park might develop a better system for answering mental health-related service calls traditionally routed to the police department. The group of volunteer taskforce members studied different models used across the U.S, as well as the Oak Park Police Department’s current model of partnering with Thrive Counseling Center.

The taskforce spent March and April meeting with people who have experienced mental health crises firsthand. They also met with a wide cross-section of the community, including students and police officers. In the last month, the taskforce had eight community input sessions, seven one-on-one meetings and met with 89 community members outside of the taskforce, according to taskforce co-chair Cheryl Potts, executive director of the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township.

“It was really great to hear that feedback and it really informed the final recommendations we put forward to Village Manager Jackson,” said Potts.

Allison Davenport, CEO of Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park, served with Potts as co-chair of the 30-person taskforce. Other taskforce members included representatives of Housing Forward, the township, Rush Oak Park Hospital, the local library and park district, as well as Thrive and other mental health agencies. The superintendents from Oak Park School Districts 200 and 97 also served on the voluntary taskforce. Jackson praised the taskforce members for sharing their time and donating their expertise for the benefit of the village.

Without giving too much of the report away ahead of it being received by the village board, Potts told Wednesday Journal the taskforce’s recommendations were created to be reflective of the people who live in Oak Park, not just the people who work in the mental health field, which is “very white and very female.”

“We need to have a mental health response that is culturally appropriate and that means race, ethnicity, age and that means level of expertise as well,” Potts said. 

Another pillar of the recommendations, which will be revealed in greater detail once the report is made public, is a method for post-crisis follow up and community education, so that it is more easily recognizable for the general public to identify when an individual is experiencing a crisis of mental health. Proper follow up could prevent future crises while an informed public could prevent police involvement in mental health situations. 

“If someone’s life is at risk, then you should call 911 immediately, but if that is not the case, you can call 988, which is a mental health crisis response,” said Potts. 

Once the report is presented, the next phase is putting the taskforce’s recommendations into action, according to the village manager. This will likely involve developing an implementation plan that will be executed in multiple phases, so that it is also reflective of mental health policies and initiatives happening at a state level.

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