Policing and mental health issues

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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No police departments should be defunded, especially the Oak Park and River Forest police. There are needs in our society that can only be addressed by the police. As a social worker I have been in situations where the police were vital to everyone's safety.

The Oak Park police have been trained by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in how to sensitively handle mental health and other disruptive matters.

People I know who had to have the River Forest or the Oak Park police answer their calls for assistance have said that the police handled the situations very well and sensitively.

I realize there are issues with some police departments and that some of these departments need to be revamped. There always needs to be zero tolerance for excessive force and, of course, wrongful murder of citizens.

All police departments need to have NAMI training, anti-racist training, and training to abandon excessive force. These trainings need to be repeated on a regular basis. Police who cannot maintain the standards of these trainings need to be identified by their superiors and removed from contact with the community.

We need many more mental health services available in our communities, including psychiatric treatment, psychological and social work therapy, as well as mental health clinics.

Most of all, we need to fund and develop supported housing for people with a mental health issue and/or a disability. It is the most effective and least costly way to sustain a safe and healthy environment for people with a mental health or other disability. This will reduce some of the burden that police encounter considering that one-third of our jail space is populated by people who have a mental illness. These people are inappropriately housed because there is no other place for them to go.

Let us keep our police departments funded, give them appropriate and frequent training as well as adding the other services needed in our community so we are not asking our police to be all things to all people.

Joan Ward Greene MSW, CSW

Oak Park

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Susan Montgomery from Chicago  

Posted: August 7th, 2020 4:04 PM

My family lived in Oak Park for 50 years, until 2014. My older brother developed schizophrenia in his early 20s while at college. It was so gradual that we really weren't fully aware of what was happening at the time. He was a brilliant and compassionate person--think of the movie, A Brilliant Mind--and it was tragic that a person so full of promise went downhill so quickly. Fast forward many years later, my brother couldn't work because of this illness, and he lived with my parents in Oak Park. At some point, police were always being called to the house, perhaps by caring neighbors who heard my brother's vitriolic shouting from inside the house and were concerned for my parents' welfare. It became humiliating and embarrassing that my family became what felt like the "black sheep" in the neighborhood because of this. But, to me, the Oak Park police became our friends. They understand what every call was about and how painful this situation was. I distinctly remember my mother recounting one experience when the police arrived at the door. From her description, it was very clear that they had receive some training on how to deal with someone who is mentally ill. They were as compassionate as could be. It was extraordinary and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share that with the officer who patrolled that neighborhood. I only wish that more police departments could receive this kind of de-escalation training as Oak Park has.

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