Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs bill for ‘co-responder’ policing in cities, including Waukegan

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a series of bills aimed at addressing gun violence and other crime through measures that include a pilot program in some cities that will team social workers with police officers on certain calls.

The initiatives come as Pritzker tries to fend off Republicans, including potential opponents in the November election, who’ve accused him and other Democrats of being soft on crime. Some of the legislation he signed, though, focuses on ways to address crime that run counter to traditional law-and-order methods that are generally championed by Republicans.

One of the new laws creates and funds a “co-responder” pilot program that calls for police officers to team up with social workers to look for ways to help troubled and potentially violent people instead of putting them under arrest.

Chicago late last year started a similar pilot program. The bill signed by Pritzker will apply to four cities in the next six months — Peoria, Springfield, East St. Louis and Waukegan — where police and social workers will provide ongoing crisis intervention support for anyone experiencing mental health emergencies. The measure allocates $10 million for the program for the budget year that begins July 1.

Peoria police Chief Eric Echeverria said Tuesday his officers in 2021 responded to 1,247 calls in which someone was suicidal or had taken their life, 978 calls indicating someone was in trouble with a history of mental health issues. and 468 calls involving someone with cognitive impairment.

He called the pilot program for his department part of “a new era of policing.”

“Policing is not only about making arrests or writing somebody a citation,” Echeverria said at the bill-signing ceremony in Peoria, flanked by Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and other elected officials. “It is also about implementing policies and procedures that provide options to get people the help they need in a more empathetic manner.”

The bill also requires homicide detectives to undergo “trauma-involved training,” according to the Pritzker administration and created a grant program to create tip hotlines and various victim and witness resources.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks before signing the 2023 budget on the campus of Chicago State University on April 19, 2022. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The bill also reauthorizes a witness protection program with $30 million set aside for it in the upcoming state budget. The program had been neglected for years by state legislators and past governors who failed to earmark funding for it.

Pritzker also signed a bill that allows for the state to pay for funerals of gun violence victims under 17. The bill was inspired by the fatal shooting of 4-year-old Mychal “MJ” Moultry Jr. on Labor Day weekend last year on Chicago’s South Side. He was getting his hair braided in a Woodlawn apartment when a bullet pierced a window and struck him in the head.

Pritzker said that because Mychal’s mother, Angela Gregg, could not afford to pay for his burial, his body was cremated. “She should never have had to experience such loss for change to happen,” the governor said. “But she courageously spoke out so no other parent would experience what she did.”

He also signed a bill to aid in the recruitment and retention of police officers across the state.

“There are those that would like for us to believe that you have to choose between police or community, and I believe that is a failed notion,” said state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria, whose stepson was fatally shot in 2014. “Police are community. The community needs the police, and it is our jobs as leaders to identify the paths to create a better opportunity for community and police to work together better, to work together stronger.”

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

Chi,Feeds,News,City: Chicago

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May 10, 2022 at 07:37PM

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