TV6 Investigates: Galesburg police adding mental health expert to staff

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 8:54 PM CST
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GALESBURG, Illinois (KWQC) - The American Psychological Association says at least 20 percent of all police dispatch calls nationwide involve mental health or substance use.

In Galesburg, that number is much higher. “In one way or another, mental health or substance abuse issues of some sort probably involve 80 to 90 percent of calls we go on,” said Russ Idle, Chief of the Galesburg Police Department.

Bridgeway, Inc., a 501C-3 nonprofit whose motto is to “create solutions for everyone,” will soon have someone involved with the department’s dispatch. Idle says it’s come after years of rising calls related to mental illness rather than crime.

“Our function is to come in, solve the problem and make the situation safe at the moment and enforce the law,” said Idle, “this is a way for us to hire a mental health expert to come in and advise us, and help people who have these issues and to provide resources for people above and beyond getting arrested.”

Still in its infancy, the program is being developed and molded by the department to fit its needs.

“We’d like to build on it and get several officers trained in crisis intervention,” said Daniel Hostens, Chief Deputy, “that way they can recognize those issues and bring that social worker along with them.”

The social worker who is now on the Galesburg Police Department’s staff is Alexis Ramirez. A graduate of the Knox College Psychology Program, he’s recently come back from Chicago to help build the position from the ground up.

Ramirez believes he’ll bring more knowledge and understanding to the table during a crisis call. “Officers who are called to go on scene or on site for an individual experiencing some form of psychosis, or managing or experiencing some form of mental health issues sometimes aren’t trained for that,” said Ramirez.

Mental health training in Law Enforcement was introduced to the White House in 2015 by then California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who along with multiple Law Enforcement leaders around the state formed an administration-backed task force called “21st Century Policing.”

The group’s goals were to improve peace officer training, accountability and build trust between the community and police.

However, the popularity of adding a mental health professional to the police force has really taken place in the past two years. Which, according to a 2011 study that surveyed over 2,400 police officers nationwide about the rise of mental health related 911 calls, shows to be over a decade late.

One reason the wait took so long locally was due to funding.

According to Chief Idle, Knox County has provided a grant for the new position through its 708 Mental Health Board, meaning the city pays nothing.

The push by the county is to gain a better understanding we have new issues in society, as the problems change law enforcement needs to adapt.

“It’s a new understanding we have of the new issues in society,” said Idle.

Departments such as Bettendorf Police have had a social worker since 1976 and can help bring newer initiatives in other departments a better understanding of how experts in mental health have benefitted them over the years.

“Being a social worker with the police departments, it’s so multi-faceted,” said Chief Kieth Kimball of the Bettendorf Police Department, “there’s so many things they can do. It’s a way for officers to hand off to our social worker, if they feel there needs to be more resources or more attention.”

Ramirez says he spends his workdays so far building relationships with the resources hell need to help the community.

“I’m really excited for the progress,” he said.

The Galesburg Police Department says they hope the new position will be ready as soon as next month to start with dispatch calls

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