911 dispatchers trained in mental-health response

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Emergency dispatchers in Chicago field about 5 million calls a year. Some of those calls are made by people going through a mental-health crisis. (WLS)

Emergency dispatchers in Chicago field about 5 million calls a year. Some of those calls are made by people going through a mental-health crisis.

A new effort to train 911 dispatchers on how to handle those calls comes after the shooting deaths of Quintonio LeGrier and his neighbor, Bettie Jones. The officer involved claimed bad information from dispatchers led him to shoot and kill them.

The city wanted to make sure an incident like that doesn't happen again. So they created crisis-intervention training for officers on the street and for dispatchers taking emergency calls.

"I think already, it's beneficial. Just in the first couple of hours of training, I can already tell a couple of things I'll do differently next time I'm answering the phone calls," said Amy Lovell, a dispatcher.

Friday's mental health and de-escalation training session was the last of 2016. The training helps dispatchers and call-takers better understand the call coming in and the help needed. It's the first step in neutralizing a situation before police arrive.

"This time last year, we had about 5,000 calls where we identified folks had mental-health issues and needed to have someone come out. Now, same time, a year later, because of the training, we have over 20,000 people that have been identified. That's about five times. That doesn't mean that the level or number of mental-health cases has increased. It means that we've done a better job of identifying those and ensuring that we get the right help for these folks," said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, OEMC Executive Director.

The classes better train dispatchers to know when they are handling individuals with mental-health issues - and when they get a call that needs more help, to send the right officer for the job - one that has received the crisis-intervention training.

A total of 35 percent of the CPD's patrol officers will be trained before the end of 2017. It's all part of the plan to reform the handling of emergency calls and the way responding officers are prepared to handle them.
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