Evanston City Council approves plan to send community responders to 'low-risk' 911 calls

Cate Cauguiran Image
Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Plan to send crisis responders to some 911 calls approved in Evanston
At a Evanston City Council meeting, a plan to send crisis responders, instead of the Evanston Police Department, to low-risk 911 calls was approved.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Evanston is officially on the way to change what emergency response looks like within the city.

In a unanimous vote on Monday night, the Evanston City Council approved the Alternative Community Response Initiative, a plan Mayor Daniel Biss said has been years in the making. The idea was born from the city's Reimagining Public Safety Committee.

"The idea was to solve problems that were currently asking police officers to solve, but maybe they're not the best person to solve them, to have somebody else and a different approach be the way to address those problems," Biss said.

The newly-approved program, under the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department and in partnership with Evanston police, would dispatch teams of specially trained community responders, instead of an armed police officer, to handle "low-risk" 911 calls, like mental health crises.

"The dispatcher can send a community responder, perhaps someone who is trained in social work, or someone who is a therapist, someone who might be a peer who has gone through some of these challenges themselves," Biss said.

Responders would go out in pairs, unarmed. They would work seven days per week between 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The program would also allow police to focus resources to higher-priority calls.

"Anything that could alleviate pressure on the police, I think, is a good idea," said Evanston resident Christiaan DeBrauw. "I live downtown, and there's tremendous emergency calls all the time."

On Monday night, the Evanston Police Department spoke in support of the new changes ahead.

"We recognize some very rapidly-evolving changes in law enforcement over the past years, and as a police department, absolutely support those changes as how that impacts the community," said Evanston Police Commander Scott Sophier.

The city has already allocated $400,000 for the program. The next steps include hiring community responders that could be trained and dispatched as soon as this summer.

Eventually, pending the plan's success, they hope to offer community responders 24/7.