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One zoom call at a time to deal with a mental health crisis

Chicago – The sergeant rarely used a tablet, so he didn’t have to grab the tablet from the police car seat when he came across a house where a suicidal man screamed and slammed his head on the floor.

However, she sent a police officer to retrieve the tablet, seeing that the man could harm himself, his family, or a knife he was threatening to use. She turned it on, handed it over to the man, and told him to talk to the woman whose face appeared on the screen. And she saw the man settle down quickly.

“When I saw how this tool calmed him down, I was like holy smoke, which is incredible,” said Sergeant Bonnie Bush, Sheriff of Cook County. ..

This scene shows that the department first adopted the idea of ​​Zoom Call, which became very common during the COVID-19 pandemic, and inserted it into one of the most dangerous things police officers could do.


Law enforcement agencies are suffering from an increase in violent crimes nationwide as police are required to change the way they interact with citizens, especially those with mental health problems. Police are still most often first called to the scene, and the sheriff’s treatment response team is a novel approach to managing such calls.

Launched two years ago, the initiative aims to help 300 police in the sheriff’s department respond to the surge in drug overdose calls during the national opioid crisis.

Later, the pandemic left more people isolated at home due to the risk of being unable to connect to the service or going out and getting sick, and 911 calls related to suicide and other mental health crisis threats. Faced with an explosion.

A sheriff who made a national headline to implement a program to address the increase in inmates with mental illness in prisons now sees the same kind of problems happening for his officers on the streets. I did.


“We were increasingly required to be the first responders to mental health cases, and they were required to do untrained or minimally trained.” Said Tom Dart, the second largest sheriff’s office. Patrol many of Cook County’s unincorporated parts and its small communities across the country. The number of 911 calls, including mental health issues, has increased by nearly 60% this year.

There are other programs across the country, but most of them involve police officers and mental health professionals running around in ambulances, Dart said. This is fine for small communities, but not practical in Cook County, where it takes more than an hour to travel from one end to the other without traffic.

“How many ambulances do we need to buy and how many do we need to hire to put people in all of them?” Dart asked.

Please enter your tablet.

Team Director Elli Petaque-Montgomery said:


So far, there are 70 tablets in this department. Thirty-five were purchased with a grant at the start of the program, and another 35 were purchased when it became clear that the number of Zoom calls above 50 would increase.

Also, the programs used by this department not only in the western part of Chicago but throughout the county, sometimes made zoom calls impossible due to uneven service or other reasons. In nearly 20 cases, executives called between endangered people and mental health professionals.

At the same time, four clinicians and other mental health professionals already working in the department joined in to answer the phone call. The price of clinicians and pills (hundreds of dollars each) is a fraction of the cost of sending a small army of mental health professionals ready to go on the streets, Dart said.

“We’re not asking anyone to work on an eight-hour shift, we’re just asking them to make it available,” said the office last week when a suburban Oak Lawn joined the program. The announced dirt said. Followed by others.


Still, such programs do not accept the idea that police officers, especially those who have existed for some time and have a particular method, give control of at least some of the situation to someone (and something). As long as it doesn’t work.

“I don’t play video games, and I didn’t grow up in an era of FaceTime and text instead of face-to-face with FaceTime,” Busching said. And she didn’t like the idea that someone would look over her shoulder on the video screen and tell her what to do.

But that night in December, she quickly concluded that she had no choice and told the man, “Call a friend,” borrowing a famous line from the game show.

“I saw the man and said,’ This woman is going to help you, she’s a therapist, not a police officer,’” Bush said.

Bush may be one of those less accustomed to zooming in calls and texting, but she quickly learned that someone with a teenager already knew.


“People spend a lot of time on electronics and they feel comfortable with them and it’s safer to talk face-to-face with people,” said Petak Montgomery, who was on the other side of the phone. Told. And she said Bush signaled a level of trust by giving the man a tablet.

It signaled something to the policeman himself.

“They have historically meant hours, hours, hours, tons of paperwork, and potentially enter into (situations) that mean the use of force, handing tablets to clinicians, We’ve seen clinicians do the work for them, “said Petaque-Montgomery.

“You can even slide the tablet under the door so you don’t even have to look at the cops,” Dart added.

One of the mothers of a 12-year-old boy who had a problem running away a few weeks ago and needed mental health assistance could see a change in his excited son’s attitude when a policeman handed him a tablet. I was able to do it. It changed, even more, when the conversation with the clinician began.


“The way he (clinician) spoke showed that his son understood him,” said a woman who spoke anonymously because she didn’t want to identify her son. “He likes it because it helps to see someone talking to him and the person behind his voice.”

For Bush, questions about tablets and worries about what would happen if he was forced to detain a man who threatened suicide disappeared when the prone to physical conflicts ended quietly. ..

“He reached out to me and walked with me to the ambulance,” she said.

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One zoom call at a time to deal with a mental health crisis