SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Mental health professionals could soon treat people experiencing mental health crises instead of police.
A proposal for this change passed out of the House with unanimous support Sunday. The bill requires emergency service providers to coordinate between a 9-1-1 and 9-8-8 call to help anyone seeking assistance.
Sponsors say the change can truly help people feel safer if they're going through trauma by ensuring they receive care from professionals trained to do it. Rep. Kelly Cassidy was in tears as the legislation passed on concurrence. The Chicago Democrat said it's impossible to overstate the impact of this shift in policy for the most vulnerable people in Illinois.
Cassidy asked Rep. Thaddeus Jones to stand alongside her while she spoke about the proposal. Jones recently became the first Black mayor of Calumet City and represents a family who lost a loved one after police responded to an emergency and killed the person in need. Officers shot and killed 15-year-old Stephon Watts on February 1, 2012. The Watts family has fought for this reform since that day.
"I thank the Watts family for their ongoing advocacy, their dedication to ensuring that no other family has to experience what they did. With the implementation of CESSA, a mental health emergency will get a mental health response," Cassidy said. "I thank everyone in this building for their help in getting us to this point."
Passing the Stephon Watts Act
Stephon's sister, Renee Watts, highlighted the need for change during several committee hearings over the past year. She agrees with Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown's assessment that we ask officers to do too much.
"If the CESSA bill was enacted during this time, then Stephon would've been met with a mental and behavioral response team instead of the police," Watts said on May 18.
Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) championed the proposal in the Senate. He previously stressed people should receive treatment instead of trauma.
"Receiving treatment from someone who is a trained professional in mental health support is the best and safest way to address a mental health crisis," Peters said. "When police or firefighters show up, it sometimes creates a more dangerous situation for everyone."
The Community Emergency Services and Support Act now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk.