Chicago police to get more mental illness training

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Chicago Police Department / MGN

CHICAGO (AP) – Chicago police officers and 911 dispatchers will receive enhanced training on interacting with people in crisis, particularly those with mental illness, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.

The announcement came the same day that the attorney for a white Chicago police officer accused of shooting a black teenager 16 times in 2014 said the officer and his family are receiving death threats.

Jason Van Dyke’s attorney said after a status hearing that Van Dyke has no formal protection but police are aware of the threats and are “taking precautions.” A judge set the next hearing in Van Dyke’s case for March 23. Attorney Dan Herbert also said he’s “probably” going to ask for a change of venue but not until after he has received all evidence from the state.

Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty in the death of Laquan McDonald, 17, whose videotaped shooting sparked numerous protests and calls for Emanuel’s resignation.

Other police shootings led to Emanuel instituting the new program, for which he said the goal is to make sure first responders “have the right training, practice, and preparations to de-escalate crisis situations safely and effectively.”

Last month, the mayor asked the Chicago Police Department and the Independent Police Review Authority, an agency that investigates police misconduct, to review officers’ training to respond to mental health crisis calls in the wake of a Dec. 26 double fatal police shooting that left Quintonio Legrier, 19, dead along with his neighbor, Bettie Jones, 55. IPRA said this week that Legrier called 911 three times before he was shot.

Emanuel said at the time that he wanted police and IPRA to review the training, determine deficiencies and figure out how to immediately address them.

Under the new program, the city’s public health, fire, police and emergency officials will collect data about mental health incidents to help improve responses. Emanuel also said the city will work with mental health experts and community leaders to improve access to mental health services when individuals come into contact with first responders.

Suggestions came from a steering committee of city officials, service providers and mental health experts.

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