Chicago crisis response team sees early success responding to mental health calls

CHICAGO (CBS) – For a year, a specialized team has been taking mental health calls across Chicago. 

CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey looked into whether the program is working.

The 22-person team has responded to hundreds of call over the last year and so far, none of them have escalated to an arrest or the use of force.

Chicago’s Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement, or CARE Team, takes inventory of their extensive gear.

“We’ve come across people who may not have pants or may not have a shirt and we’re able to give them these items,” said Jennifer Garross, a licensed clinical social worker on the CARE Team.

Garross added these include items that a police squad car would not have. She uses her radio, pairs up with a specially trained community paramedic and a crisis intervention-trained officer.

She heads out to pilot areas in the Uptown and Lakeview area, the Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods and the area around Lawndale.

“We’re able to show up to a situation where there’s a mental health crisis, help to deescalate it,” Garross said.

They hope to avoid a scene like one in 2020 when Chicago native Daniel Prude’s family called police in Rochester, New York because he was walking around naked and acting erratically.

That call escalated and Prude ultimately suffocated and died after being taken into custody.

“What we’ve found through cases like this is often getting them in a first response mode at the same time always presents a possibility for a different outcome,” said Jonathan Zaentz, district chief of special projects, who oversees the 10 paramedics on the CARE Team. He said they’ve been trained to respond differently.

“The focus often isn’t on immediately getting someone to a hospital or an emergency room,” Zaentz said. “It’s on deciphering what’s going on here? What can we do and how can we have an outcome that is going to beneficial to them?”

In the past year, the team responded to 269 calls. They’ve had 198 follow-ups with zero use of force events and zero arrests.

“We’ve also been able to divert from the hospital a few times as well,” Garross said.

Zaentz said he feels the pilot program has been “very successful to this point.”

The small but mighty team said it’s the best first year outcome they could have hoped for, especially when you think that each of those calls could have had the potential to escalate, but didn’t.

“When we show up, the officers that are on scene already are really glad we’re there,” Garross said.

As for the future of the program, the city is looking at adding shifts in the areas where they already have teams and expanding to other areas that consistently have high numbers of mental health calls.

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