• Erin Hegarty
    MAR 04, 2022

    Public health, police officials to update aldermen on ‘co-responder’ pilot program

    Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) and Matt Richards with the city’s Department of Public Health speak during a September committee hearing. 

    City health officials are set on Friday to update aldermen on the “co-responder” pilot program they launched in late August that sends different combinations of mental health professionals, paramedics, police officers and recovery specialists to calls of residents experiencing mental health crises. 

    The City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations is scheduled to hold a subject matter hearing on the program during its 11 a.m. meeting.  

    The Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) Program pilot, which shifts the city closer to eliminating police from mental and behavioral health crises, launched initially in two areas: the Town Hall police district, which covers Lakeview, North Center and Uptown, and the Gresham police district, which covers Auburn Gresham and Chatham.  


    The CARE pilot dates back to fall 2020, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed as part of the 2021 budget to allocate $1.7 million to the “co-responder” program as part of a larger package of “community-based violence reduction efforts.” The mayor ultimately agreed amid prodding from the council’s Progressive Reform Caucus to set aside part of the program that would send mental health professionals to respond to calls without police at their side. 

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

    Removing police from mental and behavioral health crisis responses is a move some aldermen and community organizations have advocated for more than a year. 

    Also in 2020, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) introduced the “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance (O2020-5704), proposing to divert millions of dollars from the Chicago Police Department to the Department of Public Health to fund a network of “public sector mental health professionals” who would respond to mental health-related emergency calls instead of police. Rodriguez-Sanchez’ ordinance remains in the City Council’s rules committee and has not reached a hearing or vote.  

    Cook County leaders in February announced they will launch their own “Crisis Intervention Pilot Program” to “provide an alternative to law enforcement officers responding to people in behavioral health crises” in unincorporated areas patrolled by Cook County Sheriff’s police, according to budget materials released at the time. Funding for the county program is set to come from $16.3 million in federally backed funding set aside for “mental and behavioral health.” 

    Related: Cook County to launch non-police mental health response system backed by ARPA funding 

    Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) Executive Director Rich Guidice told aldermen during an October budget hearing that employees in the city’s 911 response center were “very excited” about the co-responder pilot program. 

    Related: OEMC’s role in co-responder pilot poised to expand under 2022 budget, director says 

    Guidice told aldermen at the time that all his office’s 911 call center employees — who together receive about 12,000 calls per day — had been trained on the co-responder program and were prepared to dispatch a co-responder team or a more “traditional” response “if it [is] a threatening situation,” Guidice said.  

    Responding to a question from Ald. Daniel La Spata (1), Guidice said OEMC and the public health department would look at the number of times the new co-responder units are dispatched to calls, the success of interactions with people and whether cases produce a “successful outcome.” 

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