Senator Steans on the Senate floor

Police officers in Illinois would be better prepared to respond to and de-escalate mental health crises under a new law sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

“With recent funding cuts and gaps in the mental health system, officers increasingly are responding to situations that involve people with mental illness,” Steans said. “They need to be trained to recognize signs of mental illness and know how to de-escalate these interactions for the safety of those they encounter, as well as for their own protection.”

House Bill 375, signed into law Tuesday, requires the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board to create a police training course on awareness of mental health issues. It also expands training requirements for probationary officers and expands police in-service requirements to include training on mental health awareness and response.

“In the long run, it’s far less expensive to teach officers how to recognize the signs of mental illness and help people calm down than it is to arrest every agitated person they encounter in the heat of the moment,” Steans said. “Communities cannot continue to bear the growing cost of jailing people who lack the money they need for mental health treatment, let alone bail.”

According to The Washington Post, one-quarter of people who were killed in officer-involved shootings in 2015 were either in an emotional or mental crisis. Furthermore, about 2 million jail bookings in the United States each year involve people with mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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