Action Alert: Support CESSA in Illinois for Non-Police Emergency Response Options


August 31, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Access Living friends and allies,

Our nation continues to witness regular violent encounters between police and people with disabilities, especially Black and Brown disabled people. More communities are now asking about alternatives to police-involved emergency response for mental and behavioral health crisis, most recently with the police killing of Daniel Prude in Rochester, and the police shooting of a 13 year old autistic child in Salt Lake City. Over the last four years, Access Living has worked to advance state legislation called the Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA) to require non-police emergency alternatives in Illinois. CESSA now has increasing support in Springfield, and you can help make it happen by contacting your legislator at this link.

While some community advocates have called for increased police training, a less broadly discussed opportunity is to improve 911 emergency response options. Far too often, 911 may dispatch police officers to situations where a person with a disability may only need help de-escalating from a mental health or behavioral health crisis. Many times, the person with a disability and will not pose such a threat if they have access to early intervention. Police involvement, especially untrained police involvement, can risk escalating the situation where a person fears or may not understand the police (or vice versa). Thus, non-police involved emergency 911 options are critical.

In Illinois, did you know that…

  • 10% of 911 calls request help with a mental or behavioral health emergency.
  • Since Illinois lacks an appropriate response service, 911 can only dispatch law enforcement, leaving responding officers with the dilemma of placing callers in the acute care hospital system or arresting them.
  • 90% of people with a mental or behavioral health emergency don’t need that invasive and costly a response.
  • Communities that adopted mobile response services reduce the rate of hospitalization and incarceration per emergency, instead providing community based care.

Rather than focusing on training, CESSA would:

  • Create a response service 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.
  • Replace costly institutionalization with community based, patient directed care.
  • Empower each EMS Region to design regionally appropriate systems.

How can you help?

If you live in Illinois, ask your state representatives to support CESSA during the Illinois legislative veto session in November. Again, here is a link to an email action alert to ask your Illinois State Senator and Illinois State Representative to support CESSA, which is also known as Senate Bill 3449 and House Bill 5009. Ask your Illinois friends to help do the action alert too. If you are part of an organization that would like to support CESSA, please contact Candace Coleman, Access Living’s Racial Justice Community Organizer, at, and let her know.

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.

Please take action today on CESSA, and share this alert with fellow advocates, especially in Illinois. Thank you.