The governor on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will require social workers and police officers in Waukegan and other Illinois cities to work together when responding to 911 calls.
House Bill 4736 creates the Co-Responders Pilot Program to have police in certain parts of the state begin a joint effort with multiple social service agencies.
Peoria, Springfield, East St. Louis and Waukegan will be participating in the pilot program.
The measure passed the legislature last month and was signed into law Tuesday afternoon by Gov. JB Pritzker in Peoria.
“We know that building a safer Illinois means approaching crime from every possible angle,” Pritzker said.
“This program combines the necessary skills of police with the specialized training of social workers and mental health professionals to address the root causes of crime compassionately and safely. This is supported by data and by what law enforcement officers on the ground are telling us about the incidents they’re addressing,” he added.
“The general idea is for law enforcement agencies to collaborate with local social service agencies to respond together to certain mental health or domestic cases,” Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ed Wojcicki previously said.
The social workers in the program will attend calls alongside a police officer with the hopes that the social worker will be able to spot mental health-related issues and determine if the person is having a mental health crisis.
Wojcicki said the pilot program will provide more options for police officers and for someone who may be dealing with mental health issues.
“It’s about bringing a sort of humane type of assistance to the people they see on the street,” Wojcicki said.
“A lot of times when police go to a scene and someone needs to be taken somewhere, really the only option they have is the hospital or jail,” he said.
With the pilot program, those individuals can now be taken to a mental health facility to better serve their needs.
The Co-Responders Pilot Program does not require any extra certifications for the social workers or officers, however, Wojcicki said both parties will need training on how to handle these situations.
The state’s budget the governor approved last month allocates $10 million of taxpayer funds for the implementation of the pilot program. The fiscal year begins July 1.
The test cities part of the program will have up to six months to establish programs within their communities.
In addition to the Co-Responders Pilot Program, the bill addresses victims’ rights and public safety by mandating trauma-informed training for homicide investigators, authorizing funding to the Violent Crime Witness Protection Act and creating a grant program to create tip hotlines or other victim and witness resources.
Pritzker also signed two other bills into law. House Bill 3863 addresses the strain put on first responders and the difficulties with attracting and retaining officers.
“Crime is on the rise in all corners of our state, and staffing shortages are hindering police from best protecting their communities,” said State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest).
“The laws signed today support the valuable work that law enforcement does in every day and every hour and will help make our communities safe,” Morrison said.
House Bill 2985 authorizes the creation of a fund to directly pay funeral expenses of children murdered due to gun violence.
Illinois families previously had to pay for the expenses upfront and then apply for reimbursement.
The Center Square and Lake and McHenry County Scanner both contributed to this story.