CESSA: Community Emergency Services and Support Act


CESSA – Community Emergency Services and Support Act: HB 2784 and SB 2117

Two people sit on a bench as one consoles the other by touching the other’s shoulder.
Image created by Genevieve Silva

It’s Not a Crime to Need Mental Health Care


Candace Coleman

Community Organizer – Racial Justice


(312) 640-2128

911 must be able to dispatch health care for mental and behavioral health emergencies

#SupportCESSA: HB 2784

The Problem:

  • 10% of 911 calls request help with a mental or behavioral health emergency.
  • Since Illinois lacks a coordinated health care response service, 911 can only dispatch law enforcement.
  • Law enforcement practices focusing on “command and control” of a location actually makes many of these emergencies worse.
  • Law enforcement skills are rarely needed as people with mental illness are less likely to be violent than people without such a diagnosis.
  • Law enforcement is generally compelled to hospitalize or jail people needing this service, but 90% of people do not need such an invasive and costly response.

What is CESSA?

CESSA stands for Community Emergency Services and Support Act. It is a bill created by racial justice advocates at Access Living in partnership with the family of Stephon Watts. CESSA addresses the health needs of people who are not violent and who are not violating the law by sending support instead of police. It expands the reach of current programs operating across the state that have already rejected co-responder models for this population, requiring that such work be coordinated with and accessible through the State’s 911 systems. The mobile response service proposed by CESSA is based on the CAHOOTS model that operates in Eugene, Oregon, and dispatches teams of medics (either a nurse or an EMT) and a crisis worker (who has at least several years of experience in the mental health field) to calls requesting help for mental and behavioral health emergencies. 

What Would CESSA Do?

If passed by the Illinois State Legislature, CESSA would establish an emergency response option for mental health emergencies, one that does not involve any police or law enforcement. CESSA requires each of the State’s EMS Regions to coordinate a mobile mental and behavioral health service through its 911 provider so that such service is available wherever the region provides ambulance service. Subject to certain minimum service levels, each EMS Region decides the extent to which it will rely on existing service options or encourages additional providers to offer services. CESSA would also:

  • Create a 911 response option apart from law enforcement for mental and behavioral health emergencies everywhere an ambulance service exists.
  • Require responders to use appropriate de-escalation techniques and then connect callers to their existing care providers or to available community services and supports.
  • Saves State and local dollars by supporting people in the community rather than in emergency rooms and jails.
  • Empower each EMS Region to design regionally appropriate systems.

THIS BILL DOES NOT TRAIN POLICE. CESSA is NOT based on a co-responder model, in which police are accompanied by social workers. The bill aims to avoid any police intervention.

Who Supports CESSA?

CESSA is supported by a wide variety of Chicago nonprofits, mental health professionals, community partners, allies, and elected officials, with more and more supporters signing on all the time. Current supporters include:

  • Access Living
  • ACLU
  • Advance Your Leadership Power
  • AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • Answers, Inc.
  • Arc of Illinois
  • Asian Pacific American Advocates, Greater Chicago Chapter
  • Black Lives Matter Chicago
  • Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
  • Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) 
  • Chicagoland Autism Connection
  • Chicago Torture Justice Center
  • Chicago Women Take Action
  • Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4)
  • Decarcerate BloNo
  • Family to Family
  • Family Health Center
  • First Defense Legal Aid
  • Equip for Equality
  • Howard Brown Health Center
  • Indivisible
  • Institute on Disability and Human Development – University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Mental Health Summit
  • ONE Northside
  • Senator Robert Peters (Chief Sponsor in the Senate)
  • Sinai Health System
  • State Representative Kelly Cassidy (Chief Sponsor in the House)
  • STOP
  • SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Chicago

Interested in supporting CESSA? Contact Candace Coleman, Access Living’s Racial Justice community organizer. You can also contact elected representatives with this easy email tool.

ARTICLE: Police Superintendent backs non-police responders connected to 911 – the same system CESSA would create. WBEZ Report, October 29, 2020. Click here to read the full article.

How Can I Get Involved?

For CESSA to become state law, we need advocates and allies to ask state legislators to support CESSA and help us raise awareness. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Download and share CESSA fact sheets, or share information about CESSA on social media. Use #SupportCESSA with all your posts.
  • Share your own story or testimonial on social media in support of CESSA would impact you using #SupportCESSA.
  • Download one of the CESSA graphics and use it as your profile pictures (Facebook, Twitter, Zoom)
  • Contact legislators to ask for their support. Here’s a link to do exactly that.
  • Contact Candace Coleman, Racial Justice Community Organizer at ccoleman@accessliving.org.
  • Submit your CESSA testimony through this form on our website.

[Quick email link to #SupportCESSA to ask IL state representatives]

Further Reading:

It’s hard to miss the escalating national discussion about the need for mobile non-police emergency options. People want better options and safer communities, and most importantly, to stop deaths and disabling at the hands of police. Here are some recent stories from around the country:

We can’t forget that in many more rural communities, access to any mental health supports may be non-existent. But we have to start with demanding something better for all of us.

Watch a recording of our town hall on CESSA