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Chicago Police To Get Help With Mental Health Crisis Calls

CHICAGO (CBS) - There's a mental health crisis.

911 is called and responders head to what could be a life or death scene.

Now CBS 2 has exclusively learned Chicago police have a plan to help all involved navigate what could be a very sensitive situation.

CBS 2's Marissa Parra shows how it works in other cities.

For the first time ever, Chicago police will have a team of mental health experts riding with trained officers on mental health calls.

"National estimates are somewhere between 6 and 10% of all police calls involve a person with serious mental illness," said social work expert Dr. Amy Watson.

CPD said they'll have about 24 officers to start. Details are still being worked out. But CBS 2 has learned the police department been planning this for months, and looking to Houston for inspiration.

The Houston Police Department has been a pioneer in the arena. Since 2008, it has been sending trained officers with mental health experts for these same types of calls.

Over the summer, Chicago police sent some of their own to Houston to learn from officers there.

And Chicago police have a lot of incentive, after the consent decree last year, following a scathing U.S. Justice Department report in 2016 calling for sweeping changes to CPD and how officers handle mental health calls.

As a result, every officer in the city required to go through basic Crisis Intervention Team training or CIT. And now, the department is rolling out the new program.

But public defender Amy Campanelli can't help but wonder how different things could have been  if this kind of program existed years ago.

"The case that has bothered me for years is Philip Coleman," said Cook County defender Amy Campanelli.

Coleman was suffering a mental breakdown in 2012. Instead of getting treatment, responding officers locked him up.

"They went in, and then they had to taser him because he wasn't listening to their command," Campanelli said.

Coleman ended up dead. And while she wished it would have happened sooner, she has no question the new program will save lives.

"The police need to be trained. They need mental health professionals to help them help resolve the situation. So they don't get hurt and the person they're being called to help doesn't get hurt," Campanelli said.

There's no exact time table yet for when it starts, only sometime in the next few weeks.

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