Task force to help officers deal with mentally ill

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline has created a new task force to review the way officers deal with people who may have a mental illness. This comes after a bi-polar woman was sexually assaulted and then either fell or was pushed from a seventh story window. She had been released from police custody just a short time before the attack.

This is -- at present -- an 11-member panel with an abundance of expertise in the mental health field. Its mission is to look at an issue that has long been problematic for police departments across the country.

Chicago cops participated in a training session Wednesday designed to help them better recognize and handle someone who has a mental illness. This sort of crisis intervention training has been underway for a number of years, but it has involved only a small fraction of a 13,000 member department. This kind of training will now likely increase.

"Our goal is to better understand the complex needs of people with mental illness who are in contact with our criminal justice system," said Supt. Phil Cline, Chicago police.

In a speech to the City Club of Chicago Wednesday, police superintendent Phil Cline announced the formation of a panel of mental health and criminal justice experts -- including Circuit Judge Paul Biebel -- who will look at how the department can better train its people to deal with mental health issues.

This comes four months after a 21-year-old California woman, suffering from a bi-polar disorder, was released on her own recognizance from the Area 1 lock-up. She wound up being sexually assaulted and either fell or was pushed from a Robert Taylor Homes seventh floor window.

The woman survived but will never fully recover. After her arrest for disorderly conduct, her parents repeatedly called Chicago police telling them of their daughter's illness. They were continually told to call back. They have now filed a $100 million lawsuit that could cost the city an expensive settlement.

"I don't know what happens with the lawsuit, cause we get sued all the time, but I think that more than the lawsuit, we just have to give people all the protection we can to keep them safe," said Isaac Carothers.

New training for frontline cops -- if that were to be a recommendation -- would take time considerable time and money.

"What we wanna do is look at all our policies and see what we can do better," said

The department is still in its review of what happened -- and more importantly what should have happened -- in the case of the 21-year-old California woman. After her arrest, police officers reportedly were made aware of her mental condition and that she was a potential self threat. Whether her later release was a matter of negligence or a simple failure of communication is at the heart of an internal investigation and the civil suit.

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