CHICAGO — Expanding mental health services would be the surest way to drive down the number of fatal police-involved shootings across the country, an advocate group concluded in a report published this month, and at least one alderman is calling on city officials to reopen mental health clinics to help achieve that goal.
Researchers from the D.C.-based Treatment Advocacy Center found that the roughly 4 million Americans who lack treatment for severe mental illnesses, at less than 2 percent of the total population, make up at least 25 percent of all people killed by police.
A system in which police — instead of mental health professionals — represent cities' first encounters with the mentally ill, researchers say, "has criminalized mental illness at enormous cost to individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases, the criminal justice system and society."
The report, first cited by the Chicago Reader, joins a fresh wave of voices calling for reform in the wake of the Dec. 26 police shooting of 55-year-old Bettie Jones and 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier. LeGrier's father had called 911 to report that the teen was acting erratically, but the family later denied early reports that he was mentally ill.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has come under repeated criticism for his 2012 decision to shutter half of the city's 12 mental health clinics.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) issued a statement in response to Emanuel's Wednesday news conference on police conduct calling for the mayor to reopen the clinics.
"Ending violence and promoting safety requires a comprehensive approach that ensures Chicagoans have the health services that prevent conflict," Ramirez-Rosa said. "Mayor Emanuel needs to reopen the mental health clinics he shuttered in 2012."
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