The final report of an Oak Park village policing and mental health taskforce has concluded that sending police officers as first responders to a mental health crisis was not the right policy. The 30-member committee instead urged the Oak Park village board to hire trained crisis workers and social workers to the police department staff.
The report, which included 47 key recommendations, was well received Monday night by the Oak Park village board which praised its thoroughness and thoughtfulness. The report was received by the board June 12 for discussion. Any action on specific recommendations will come at future meetings. Village President Vicki Scaman, recovering from a car accident, was absent from the June 12 meeting.
Trustee Susan Buchanan called the report “really remarkable,” while Trustee Corey Wesley praised its thoroughness.
“It’s so thorough that it’s a struggle for me to think of any questions,” said Wesley.
The taskforce was organized by Village Manager Kevin Jackson to study options for alternative responses to sending police and fire personnel when a mental health crisis call is received.
“We take great pride in the work that was done and the recommendations that were advanced to us,” Jackson told the board.
Co-chaired by Cheryl Potts of the Community Mental Health Board and Riveredge Hospital CEO Allison Davenport, the taskforce worked over several months to gather information and assemble its report. Officials of local taxing bodies and mental health professionals served on the taskforce, with which Police Chief Shatonya Jackson and Fire Chief Ronald Kobyleski both actively collaborated. Both expressed support for the recommendations at the June 12 meeting.
“The taskforce does firmly believe that police are not always the appropriate first responders in most mental health crises,” said Davenport. “The presence of police can sometimes exacerbate a mental health crisis.”
Taskforce members were given the opportunity to vote on each individual recommendation within the report before handing it over to Jackson on April 28.
“We are proud to share that 100% of our taskforce members did vote,” Davenport told the board.
Out of the 47 key recommendations, 41 reflected 97-100% support; three reflected 93% support; one reflected 90% support; one at 86% and one at 83%, according to Davenport.
The conclusions and recommendations of the report were in line with what Wednesday Journal has previously reported. This includes prompt responses to mental health crises, post-incident follow-up, community education and engagement, monitoring and improving policies and procedures, and valuing diversity and inclusion.
To do the latter, the taskforce recommends requiring training for first responders in diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity, like equity and inclusion, are a common theme throughout the report, but Trustee Lucia Robinson wanted staff to “elevate” it while assessing the recommendations.
“It needs to be centered in a really special way,” Robinson said, suggesting staff engage with bilingual mental health professionals.
If the village board adopts the taskforce’s recommendations, mental health professionals will play an even bigger role in the village’s new response model. The village has long partnered with Oak Park-based Thrive Counseling Center, but the taskforce recommends expanding upon that by staffing an interdisciplinary team of mental health crisis workers, police, firefighters and paramedics.
Dispatching mental health crisis workers over police and fire personnel should be prioritized, according to the taskforce. Police and firefighters should only be dispatched when necessary for safety. Within this recommendation, the taskforce calls for the hiring of clinically trained crisis workers and social workers, contracted with the village and embedded within the police department, and prioritizing lived experience.
The taskforce also endorsed the development of clear and non-competing policies and procedures for mental health crisis responses that are in compliance with legal statutes regarding confidentiality and protected health information.
It also recommended improving workplace culture within the Oak Park Police Department by treating disabilities, including mental health crises, as the rule and not the exception. Within this, the taskforce suggested the police department continue training officers in crisis intervention, as well as requiring first responders undergo training in trauma-informed practices and human-centered and disability-sensitive approaches. The police department is over halfway to its goal of having all officers trained in crisis intervention; 60% of Oak Park police officers have received training so far, according to Potts.
Once village staff has evaluated recommendations based on the village board’s input, formalized recommendations will come before the board again for consideration.