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Action Alert: Alternatives for Mental/Behavioral 911 Response in Illinois


March 9, 2021 | by Amber Smock

Action Alert: Alternatives for Mental/Behavioral 911 Response in Illinois

Access Living friends and allies,

Today, we’d like to ask Illinois advocates to help support the Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA). CESSA is an Illinois bill also known as HB 2784 and SB 2117. The goal of CESSA is to ensure that 911 emergency dispatch can actually dispatch appropriate non-police support for people with disabilities who are in mental or behavioral health crises. Far too often, when 911 dispatches police to these kinds of emergency calls, police “command and control” culture practices may result in physical harm, incarceration, or death for the person with a disability. We all deserve better.

What can you do? If you live in Illinois, please help contact your Illinois state legislators to support CESSA. You can easily email your legislators using this link. Advocates and organizations who want to be part of the coalition or network supporting CESSA should contact Candace Coleman, Access Living’s Racial Justice Organizer, at ccoleman@accessliving.org.

More About CESSA: CESSA was developed over the last several years by Access Living’s racial justice organizing group, Advance Your Leadership Power, in partnership with the family of Stephon Watts, a young man with a disability who was killed by police in his own home. CESSA recognizes what should be common sense: it’s not a crime to need mental health supports. Did you know:

  • 10% of 911 calls request help with a mental or behavioral health emergency.
  • Since Illinois lacks a coordinated health care response service, 911 can generally 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 for these calls, 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 who need help do not need such an invasive and costly response.

CESSA would:

  • Create a 911 response option separate 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.
  • Save 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.

An important note: This bill is not a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) bill.

Feel free to share this alert with fellow community members. Thank you for your advocacy.