File Photo – Mundelein Police Department | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced a new pilot program with six other police departments in Lake County that will pair social workers with officers when responding to mental-health calls.

The Gurnee Police Department, Lake Forest Police Department, Libertyville Police Department, Lincolnshire Police Department, Mundelein Police Department, Vernon Hills Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office are partnering to participate in a co-responder model for mental health-related calls.

Members of the partner agencies have been working together throughout 2021 to establish operational procedures for the pilot initiative, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli.

The program will be an expansion of the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COaST) already in place at the sheriff’s office.

The new co-responder approach is modeled after the Behavior Response Unit in Orange County, Florida, with modifications to meet the needs of Lake County.

The new expansion of COaST will feature a social worker, clinician or peer specialist who will be partnered with a sheriff’s deputy or police officer from a partner agency.

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The sheriff’s office will have a full-time deputy and mental health worker assigned as one team. The other team will be a rotation of officers from the member agencies partnered with a separate mental health worker.

The teams will respond to mental-health calls in areas normally patrolled by the sheriff’s office and in Gurnee, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, and Vernon Hills.

When not on the scene of a call in one of these areas, the teams will conduct follow-up with those who had a previous law enforcement encounter where mental health was a factor of the interaction, Covelli said.

The co-responder teams will have a wide range of options when interacting with an individual who is in a mental crisis.

“These options will range from being a bridge to connect the individual with future professional assistance, providing the person with a ride to the Independence Center Living Room Wellness Center, or providing a ride to a hospital if the situation necessitates immediate professional care,” Covelli said.

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“The teams will have the ability for the mental health worker to use as much time as needed to stabilize situations and take necessary actions to best address mental health crises,” Covelli added.

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg called the program a “groundbreaking initiative” with municipal partners.

“Having a social worker or clinician on-scene, aiding in de-escalation, and the mental wellness follow-up process is an incredible new method that is bound to have successful results. I am thankful for the leadership of everyone involved in the creation of this pilot program and I look forward to adding additional municipal partners in the years to come,” Idleburg said.

Gurnee Chief of Police Brian Smith said his department is honored to partner with the police agencies to build upon the program established by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

“This collaborative effort by our agencies, reflects the emerging needs within our communities and rises to the expectations of care for people in a mental health crisis. Gurnee Officers remain dedicated to providing an appropriate response that is more efficient and accessible in safely providing this care for the residents of Gurnee and Lake County,” Smith said.

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All of the police officers, deputies and mental health workers participating in this program will go through advanced training in mid-January.

Mundelein Police Chief John Monahan said his department is proud to be a part of the pilot program.

“Mental health crisis response services are a vital part of our communities and we are proud to partner with these agencies in an effort to help people access the services they need,” Monahan said.

The initiative will be fully operational on January 31 and the program will be regularly evaluated, Covelli said. “It is the hope of the partner agencies that the program will be a success and can be expanded in 2023.”