Waukegan Police Chief Edgar Navarro, Waukegan Deputy Police Chief Craig Neal, Waukegan Police Commander Adriana Cancino and Waukegan Police Sergeant Mallory Baker speak about the department’s new Community Outreach Division that is part of a pilot program funded by the state. | Provided Photo

Social workers will soon join police officers in Waukegan while responding to certain 911 calls as part of a co-responder pilot program funded by the state.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 4736 into law in May 2022.

The bill created 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 are participating in the program.

“We know that building a safer Illinois means approaching crime from every possible angle,” Pritzker said at the time.

“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 said.

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Waukegan Police Chief Edgar Navarro said his department’s new Community Outreach Division is a co-responder unit aimed to improve service to the community and go behind the initial call for service.

Waukegan Police Department Sgt. Mallory Baker said the division will have three officers paired with three social workers.

“The goal of our unit is to reduce the pressure on the criminal justice system by diverting people in crisis away from incarceration and connecting them with services,” Baker said.

Baker said he believes this program will also reduce the pressure on the healthcare system.

Waukegan’s program is set to launch early next year.

Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ed Wojcicki previously said social workers 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.

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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.

The state allocated $10 million of taxpayer funds for the implementation of the pilot program.