New CPD training might be too little too late

Throughout the last few months, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department have faced great scrutiny, including an investigation of CPD by the U.S. Justice Department for the shootings of civilians by police officers and the system that allows these tragedies to be repeated.

Emanuel announced Jan. 28 that 12,000 Chicago police officers and 911 dispatchers will undergo eight hours of training on responding appropriately in situations involving people with mental illnesses, according to a Jan. 29 Huffington Post article.

The CPD already has a Crisis Intervention Team that specifically handles crime and the mentally ill, and Emanuel proposed that this team be increased from 1,890 to 2,800 officers, according to the Jan. 29 article.

Within the CPD, other city departments and society in general, there is a lack of empathy and understanding for those who suffer from mental illness. This training could increase awareness about mental illness, but it seems Emanuel is thinking too small and short-term. 

This training would be more effective if it were reoccurring and more in-depth. It is hard to imagine that one training session could change how officers, especially those who have been on the force dealing with these situations for a long time, will react during confrontations with the mentally ill. 

Last September, a 34-year-old man named James Anderson suffering from mental illness  was fatally shot by a police officer after his mother made a call to 911.  Anderson had stopped taking his medication and was acting violently, according to a Jan. 28 ABC article.

After incidents with people who suffer from mental illness, this training seems like an obvious course of action. 

When Emanuel announced the new training plan, he said: “We have to get to a place across the board—from police, fire, 911 dispatchers, public health—where we’re dealing with mental health illness as a mental health illness issue not as a criminal issue,” according to a Jan. 28 Chicago Sun-Times article.

According to the Sun-Times article, Emanuel closed half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics five years ago.

This training seems to be necessitated by CPD’s lack of understanding or preparation for dealing with the mentally ill, but also by the reduction of mental health services in Chicago. 

Emanuel’s proposed training is only for CPD, but  his statement implies he might take more action in the future with other city departments, including the department of public health. Because Emanuel closed these clinics in the past and does not have the best track record with public and mental health services, it is important that he be held to this statement and continue to take steps to improve the city’s mental health services. 

This plan for CPD is a step in the right direction, but long overdue. Chicago and cities nationwide should be dealing with issues like mental health and police brutality proactively, not retroactively. 

It is sad that we see this step as a forced attempt to compensate for the many missteps that Emanuel and the CPD have recently made rather than a genuine step toward bettering Chicago.