• Erin Hegarty
    OCT 04, 2021
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    OEMC’s role in co-responder pilot poised to expand under 2022 budget, director says

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    Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications Executive Director Rich Guidice answers questions during a budget hearing Friday. 

    Employees in Chicago’s 911 response center are “very excited” about a co-responder pilot program the city launched to send combinations of mental health professionals, paramedics, police officers and substance abuse clinicians to residents experiencing mental health crises, the office’s leader said Friday. 

    Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) Executive Director Rich Guidice fielded questions from aldermen during a Friday budget hearing on an array of topics including the co-responder model, the office’s use of traffic management workers, volumes of 311 and 911 calls and the office’s former crossing guard program. 

    OEMC would see its budget drop from $136.2 million in 2021 to about $121.3 million next year, largely due to a $12.3 million decrease in grant funding, budget documents show.  

    Guidice told aldermen on Friday that his approximately 1,000-employee office currently has 125 vacancies, with 82 of those positions "from our 911 floor,” a staffing crunch that concerned several aldermen. 

    City officials at the beginning of September briefed aldermen on the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) Program pilot that OEMC and the Chicago Department of Public Health launched Aug. 30. The program inched the city closer to distancing police from mental and behavioral health crises responses, a goal some aldermen and advocacy groups have set for years. 

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    The program is operating in two police districts: the Town Hall police district, which covers Lakeview, North Center and Uptown, and the Gresham police district, which covers Auburn Gresham and Chatham. Teams consisting of a Crisis Intervention Team-trained police officer, a paramedic and a mental health professional are responding to qualifying mental and behavioral health calls in the pilot areas.  

    Additionally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget proposal includes $17 million to expand the CARE Program to 13 communities. 

    "The 911 floor is actually very excited about this," Guidice told Ald. Michele Smith (43). “We've certainly talked about it every morning at our morning meetings, and they've been very anxious to get this program started.” 

    While the pilot launched more than a month ago, Guidice told Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) that his office only began dispatching teams for the calls on Thursday. 

    “They were self-dispatching on their own without OEMC,” Guidice told Rodriguez-Sanchez on Friday. “We did not officially begin what we would [call] a dispatch until yesterday.” 

    The response teams were “really listening to calls on their own as a unit before we began actually dispatching,” Guidice further clarified. As the pilot progresses, the responding units will still be able to self-dispatch, but “we would be able to dispatch them on our own from the 911 Center,” Guidice said. 

    All of OEMC’s 911 call center employees — who together receive about 12,000 calls per day — have been trained on the co-responder program and are prepared to dispatch a co-responder team or a more “traditional” response “if it [is] a threatening situation,” Guidice said. 

    Rodriguez-Sanchez said there have been recent incidents involving mental health crises where the co-responder teams did not dispatch themselves to the call. “It's just been confusing for the public as well — how exactly the program is functioning,” she said. 

    Since the co-responder program is a pilot, Guidice said his office and the city’s Department of Public Health will analyze its rollout and examine whether “there's a better way to move this in a better direction.” 

    Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) asked Guidice what metrics his office will use to review the program’s progress. 

    OEMC and the public health department will look at the number of times the new units are dispatched to calls, the success of interactions with the people the units are responding to and whether cases produce a “successful outcome,” Guidice replied. 

    Police at festivals, crossing guard shift 

    Additionally during Friday’s OEMC budget hearing, Ald. Walter Burnett (27) pressed Guidice to find an alternative to sending Chicago police officers to work security at festivals throughout the city.  

    "We need to get the police out of the festivals," Burnett said, adding that the events take police away from "communities where we have a lot of crime."  

    Removing the officers from certain communities creates safety issues in neighborhoods already strapped for police staffing, the alderman added. 

    “Most of our police districts, they’re not even manned half the capacity they’re supposed to be manned,” Burnett said. He suggested OEMC consider deploying crews similar to the Traffic Management Authority, which handles event traffic throughout the city, to festivals. 

    Guidice told Burnett he would be open to continuing the conversation to “offer some suggestions I may have with Chicago Police Department.” 

    Aldermen on Friday also probed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s push last year to shift management of 898 crossing guards from OEMC to Chicago Public Schools — a move that was projected to save the city about $50 million.   

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    Responding to questions from multiple aldermen, Guidice said he was "not too excited about that" decision, saying OEMC had "really forged a good relationship with our crossing guards." 

    He said it was not his decision to move the program, but that of city budget officials.  

    Since the change in management, Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) said an absence of crossing guards "continues to be a problem.” 

    "We don't have crossing guards,” Thompson said. “We get calls all the time from our schools — our Catholic schools and our public schools — that there aren't crossing guards." 

     

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    • Kathleen Powers
      commented 2021-10-04 07:53:06 -0500
      It’s substance use, not substance abuse. Been that way for at least 4 years.
    • Erin Hegarty
      published this page in Chicago News 2021-10-03 23:07:35 -0500