CESSA: Community Emergency Services and Support Act


Candace Coleman

Community Strategy Specialist


(312) 640-2128

The Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA)

CESSA is an Illinois law that requires 911 to coordinate with mobile mental health response services being developed by the Illinois Department of Mental Health.

More: How CESSA came to be

What does CESSA do?

  • Directs 911, 311 and other emergency response centers to provide callers seeking mental and behavioral health support appropriate mobile mental health services without engaging law enforcement unless there is ongoing criminal activity or a threat of violence. 
  • Establishes a Statewide Committee and a Committee in each EMS Region to work out the on the ground logistics of how the services are provided based on local service availability.
  • Establishes a set of statewide goals describing the way mobile mental and behavioral healthcare should be provided. Review the statewide goals.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed CESSA into law in August of 2021. The Illinois Department of Mental Health is currently coordinating the committee meetings required by the Act for the purposes of adapting the Act’s requirements to the local resources across the State. Learn more about the Department of Mental Health’s work.

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

In general CESSA prohibits police from responding to a call seeking assistance with a mental or behavioral health crisis.

CESSA permits co-responder models only when there is violence or criminal activity.

CESSA does not distinguish between types of police responders, similarly prohibiting CIT trained police or police operating in co-responder units. CESSA prohibits all such responses subject to two significant exceptions.

First, CESSA allows police to respond to any situation where there is a suspected violation of criminal law or a threat to personal safety. In such situations, CESSA does not address how police may respond, and, as appropriate, in these situations dispatchers may deploy CIT trained officers or officers operating with co-responders. This exception still provides these responders with a necessary and significant role in the emergency response system.

Second, CESSA recognizes that unanticipated emergencies may result in the inability of 988 to provide non-police assistance in an appropriate amount of time. Each EMS Region Committee will set their local standards for response times. If 988 cannot meet those response times, police, ideally through CIT trained officers or with co-responders, may then respond to those calls for assistance.

How CESSA came to be

The law was originally the brainchild of young Black and brown disability advocates involved with Access Living’s Advance Your Leadership Power (AYLP) group. AYLP wanted to fight the widespread criminalization of people who experienced mental health crises. Just like police are not appropriate care providers for people experiencing a heart attack, police are not appropriate care providers for people experiencing a mental health crises.

AYLP members were also influenced by the experience of Stephon Watts, a Calumet City high school student for whom the bill is also named. Learn more about him.

Early versions of the bill asked the State to set up mobile mental health response teams to take the place of police responders. AYLP hoped to create an Illinois program modeled on the Cahoots program in Eugene, Oregon, instead of other models that rely more heavily on police. Before the bill passed, the State made the decision to begin providing mobile response teams when it transitioned to the federal 988 mental health hotline. That left one major piece of AYLP’s vision to complete. The State still needed a system to allow callers to 911 to also access the 988 mobile responders.

CESSA is that piece, requiring calls seeking mental or behavioral health support to be transferred to the State’s 988 hotline for potential mobile response. 

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


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


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)


SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Chicago