Advocates, Community Members Speak Out in Support of CESSA


Advocates, Community Members Speak Out in Support of CESSA

HB 2784/SB 2117

The Community Emergency Services and Support ACT (CESSA) would create a non-police mobile response option for non-violent mental and behavioral health crises, one that would save lives and reduce the load of the law enforcement system by offering a more appropriate response to these situations.

Below is the testimony of disability, mental health, and racial justice advocates and allies on why CESSA is needed, and how they have been impacted by the police-model emergency response for mental health crises.

“Why do you support CESSA?”

“In addition to my work as a trauma therapist for individuals with Developmental Disabilities, I am a CIT trainer focusing on interactions with individuals with Autism for law enforcement and corrections officers. While I see the importance of CIT training for situations that involve violence, I have seen too many tragedies and traumas when law enforcement is asked to respond to mental health crises or crises involving people with Autism or other developmental disabilities. The comment that I hear very frequently from officers in CIT training is “Why are we being asked to be social workers? We can’t be everything to everyone.” Their interest and their skill set are generally in the law enforcement “command and control” response. Mental health crises need specialized responders. The CESSA model meets that need.

A law enforcement officer once said to me that his goal in a crisis situation is “one thing: to get this person from this spot to where ever he needs to be safely.” In his mind “where he needs to be” is either in the hospital or in jail, and “safely” has a focus first on the safety of others. This model often results in repeated crisis situations because there is little attempt made to help the individual remediate the circumstances that brought them to crisis.

The CESSA model, on the other hand, emphasizes de-escalation and connection with existing and community resources. Instead of the individual being bounced from crisis to detention, the CESSA model seeks to connect the individual with the supports and services needed to prevent future crises. The model promotes safety, connection to services, and the prevention of recurrence. It recognizes that mental health crises are not criminal acts, but rather a behavioral (and sometimes literal) cry for help. There have been too many tragedies already. Please support CESSA.”

Susan Kahan

“No one should die because they’re having a mental health crisis. Armed cops showing up at mental health crisis interventions escalate the situation beyond repair and increase the likelihood that the person needing help will wind up dead.”

Chloe Konicki

“CESSA will benefit me, as a black autistic man in Chicago. Because of instances of police brutality towards disabled, Deaf, autistic, and neurodivergent people of color, and my own fear of hearing loud sirens and seeing the police approach me in any way, I refuse to call 911 if I’m in a crisis or need to go a resource (or someone in my support team) to address a meltdown or emotional shutdown. Instead, through CESSA, I would place my trust in mobile units who can help me get to the resources and people I need to address whatever is going on with me mentally and emotionally.”

Timotheus Gordon Jr., Chicago

“As a family caregiver of a parent who lives with mental illness, diabetes, & seizures, I have experienced countless encounters with the police who were ill equipped to deal with the behavioral effects. A trained social worker understands how to diffuse an escalated crisis rather than treating the situation as a crime. My mom is ill, not a criminal. A behavioral response team have the knowledge required to prevent unnecessary arrests, hospital visits, trauma, stress, & resources. Social workers earn degrees in mental health. Police do not.

‘While in an episode, my mom called 911 without awareness. Police arrived, didn’t announce themselves, & when I opened the door, I was told they were ready to knock down the door & shoot my dog because I wasn’t quick enough answering the door. I was assessed criminally. It was not only traumatizing, it took time away from my mom requiring mental health care. Police intimidation did nothing to help me or my mom. It made it worse! I never knew what would happen when they responded. I was petrified each time. CESSA would have made a huge difference in this situation.”

Theresa Stallone, Chicago

“I work with people living with mental illness who are typically homeless. So many of the people I know are like Daniel Prude, who was from Chicago and on a visit to New York State, was murdered by police in after a concerned family member called 911 for help due to Mr. Prude’s outbreak of mental health symptoms. We need an alternative to police for our community members who may be in crisis and need support. No more deaths! Secondly, negative interactions with the health care and legal system have long lasting impacts and often prevent people from ever pursuing care as the systems cannot be trusted. Everyone belongs to our society, let’s make sure we can all live with dignity.”

Kate Miller, Chicago

“A law enforcement officer is not trained or qualified to determine an individual’s course of treatment and they should not be making that type of call. Presence of an officer during a mental health crisis can often increase the tension and can contribute to heightened symptoms of anxiety and paranoia. Some Chicago Police Department officers receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, but that is not enough. We need to do better. Mental illness and addiction are not crimes and individuals experiencing a mental health emergency needs the same specialized attention from mental health professionals as a person with physical illness would get in an emergency … The Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA), would alter the way we approach individuals who are in a mental health crisis and save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Rosemary Callahan, Northbrook

“Walking home one night, I noticed someone in the back seat of a parked car. Having noticed the car in the same place, windows down, for several days in a row, I was concerned there might be an issue – the owner forgot, had an emergency in their life, who knows. But when this time I passed and looked inside the car, there was someone, curled up in the back seat, clenching their stomach, crying, and shaking. The person was clearly in extreme emotional distress, and I did not know what to do. I wanted to intervene, try to help, offer support, but was scared I would only trigger the situation and make it worse. My only instinct was to call the police and send someone to help. But too many times, ever since this event a year ago, have similar situations been escalated by police officers – police officers have been called to respond to a non-violent situation, armed with lethal weaponry, and because of their weapon, clothing, and lack of training in such situations, similar situations have far too numerously escalated to injury, assault, and even death. In the moment, I couldn’t think of who else to call. I have been cultured to call the police, 911 as an instinctual response to emergencies. But I’m this situation – in which circumstances prohibited me from staying on the scene – I only wish I would have called another number, or been given another option with which to respond. Given the police departments history of escalating emergency or “threatening” situations, I am still worried that the police did not respond appropriately. Nobody should be afraid to call for help in a situation like mine. But looking back, if CESSA existed, I would be confident that an appropriate response team would come first, using a much deeper level of experience and training in such scenarios, and calmly support the individual back to health, rather than send them deeper into trauma. CESSA would create more equitable protection for those in crisis situations, and build more trust among Chicago residents and the people serving to protect it.”

Ellis Wills-Begley, Chicago

“As a social worker, I am highly trained in trauma responsive care, and I have repeatedly witnessed the lack of trauma responsiveness by the police. Working with people who are experiencing mental illness or trauma requires extensive training. Not only do the police not have this, they actively perpetuate trauma by criminalizing mental health patients and their symptoms. This then means there is more repair work that the mental health professionals need to do. We need an alternative to the police for qualified individuals to work with this vulnerable population.”

Lauren Mulligan, Chicago

“I support CESSA because there is a need in our community for mental health support services from sources who specialize in providing this support when needed. In complex behavioral or mental health situations. Providing support when called upon, without police involvement.”

Amy Paulus, Lake Villa

“CESSA would better support persons in crisis through appropriate assistance from trained professionals. Appropriate care will be given to the person(s) in need and the load of providing care in which is not their area of expertise will be taken off law enforcement’s case.”

Brittney Hyde, Chicago

“For over a decade I have worked with persons who have disabling mental illness and addiction, too many of whom are homeless. They deserve compassionate and competent crisis assistance, not confrontation with uniformed, armed officers or incarceration. Law enforcement should not be required to respond to health emergencies. It’s expensive and ineffective.”

Lisa Parsons, Chicago

“Because CESSA will save lives and reduce inpatient hospitalization and incarceration.”

Curtis Harris, Chicago

Submit your own testimony to #SupportCESSA through the form below.

CESSA Testimonials
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