By Dermot Connolly
The Orland Park Police Department has received a $750,000 grant from the Department of Justice, which will go toward a partnership with Trinity Services Inc. to handle mental health-related incidents in the village.
Police Chief Tim McCarthy discussed the plan with the Village Board at a meeting last week, at which the board approved a resolution approving the partnership with the New Lenox-based non-profit, which provides services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.
McCarthy noted that the police department already calls in Trinity Services staff when handling mental health cases. But this new partnership will be much closer.
“With this three-year grant from the Department of Justice, we will be tracking very accurately (911) calls for mental illness. In many cases, it will allow our officers to leave the call and let Trinity Services, take it over all together. This is not only for people suffering from mental illness, but also substance abuse,” said McCarthy, adding that cases involving women will be tracked closely, too.
“While our (Crisis Intervention Team) officers are trained to detect mental illness, we are not (mental health) professionals,” said the chief, who explained that Trinity Services will have an office in Orland Park so they can respond immediately as well.
“We’ll have trained professionals on the scene. It takes away the stigma of having a uniformed officer come to your home at 3 a.m., which can be somewhat intimidating, and creates more stress than necessary,” said the chief.
“We have been recognized as having one fo the finest CIT programs anywhere. This is just a a continuation of that program. (Our goal is) to divert these cases from an arrest situation,” he explained.
Responding to a question from Trustee Cynthia Nelson Katsenes, the chief said calls to police involving mental health cases have grown in recent years.
“There are an awful lot of people dealing with mental illness. Having this will only make our program better.”
Trustee Michael Milani then asked whether mental health calls have increased since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to statewide stay-at-home orders.
“Yes, we have seen an uptick—not immediately, but after the first five or six weeks we have seen an increase in domestic and other incidents.
McCarthy said that sometimes an arrest is necessary if a violent crime has occurred, but having mental health professionals there to assess them will often allow mentally ill people to be taken to a hospital instead.
“Many times, it is just someone acting out in public. They can be taken to hospital accompanied by a mental health professional,” said McCarthy.
“We hope this is a great success. It will only be in Orland Park for the first year, but the goal is for it to spread to approximately seven or eight neighboring communities,” he said.
“This is one of the buggest grants we have received. We hope it will be hugely successful and a benefit to our residents. I think it will be a great use of funds,” said the chief.
“This is an outstanding program,” said Mayor Keith Pekau, who cited a study that showed for every percentage increase in unemployment, the suicide rate increases 1.6 percent. “I am really thankful we have this program. It t is going to be needed more than ever due to the current conditions.”