Chicago will begin to divert some 911 calls from police officers to mental health professionals under a new policy being adopted by the city. The plan is to avoid deaths at the hands of police officers by directing mentally ill individuals to those who are specifically trained to help them. Chicago is one of a number of cities which has been working to establish policies which would divert 911 calls to social workers and mental health professionals following the BLM riots of 2020.
Chicago losing police officers
Chicago is well known for being a city which struggles with frequent violence and lawlessness, a reputation which is only getting worse.
After the anti-police protests of last year large numbers of police officers in Chicago quit. With policing in the city being an increasingly dangerous and thankless job, there is a desperate need to cope with a shrinking police force.
One answer is apparently to be the use of mental health professionals instead of armed officers in certain cases.
Having professionals on hand to deal with mental health related emergency situations might seem sensible, but there are a number of issues which raise concerns about the policy.
Police are dispatched to these incidents because people experiencing the kind of episodes which necessitate 911 calls can be extremely dangerous.
The cases cited as inspiring the Chicago policy involved individuals who were shot by police while brandishing weapons and threatening violence.
A potentially dangerous situation
Mental health professionals may be thrown into situations which could see them injured or killed without any support from armed police officers.
Chicago may hope that by diverting 911 calls from police they are cutting down on deaths while compensating for their declining police force, but both motives can easily backfire on the city.
If unarmed mental health professionals are injured or killed in confrontations with dangerous individuals the city will undoubtedly find it difficult to entice more professionals.
Police officers are frequently accused of not doing enough to de-escalate situations before shooting suspects but there are questions about how capable their replacements will be in the same task.
If the health professionals are unable to convince dangerous individuals to de-escalate the situation voluntarily then they will be left without any means to protect themselves or others.
Chicago is certainly adopting a policy which is popular with many liberals but as always the hard part for the city will be converting the idea into something at all practical.