PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker was at the Peoria Civic Center on Tuesday to sign a $10 million Co-Responder Pilot Program bill into law.
The pilot program was spearheaded by State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), who was joined by the governor and other community leaders. Formally known as House Bill 4736, the program partners with the Peoria Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies to create a unit focusing on behavioral health.
“Today we take another major step towards forging a public safety system that is equitable and compassionate and just. Crime creates wounds that the Justice Department alone can never heal,” said Pritzker.
Pritzker said the program is victim-centered to coordinate social services with violence survivors. About one in four crime victims experience PTSD, and even higher for victims of assault and witnesses to homicide.
“To pair victims and witnesses with social workers who will provide survivors with trauma-informed crisis intervention services, community resources for mental and behavioral health treatment and empathetic advocacy,” he explained.
In the bill, $30 million is dedicated to providing financial aid to those who need to relocate after witnessing and reporting a violent crime.
“We are now stepping into a new era of policing in the City of Peoria that has not been seen before,” said Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria.
In 2021, Echevarria said police responded to 1,247 calls related to suicide, 978 calls involving mental health and 468 calls involving cognitive impairment.
“Policing is not only about making arrests or writing somebody a citation… it is also about implementing policies and procedures that provide options to get people the help they need in a more empathetic manner,” Echevarria said.
Under the pilot program, police officers can bring mental health professionals on calls to determine the appropriate intervention. Gordon-Booth said working together makes for a better outcome.
“The relationship between community and law enforcement… we want to be able to build a better bridge. We need everybody to work together collectively to make our community safer, to make our community better,” said Gordon-Booth.
Pritzker signed two other bills into law on Tuesday. HB 3863 created a fund for law enforcement recruitment and retention. HB 2985, the Murdered Children Funeral and Burial Act, created a fund to directly pay funeral expenses of children lost to gun violence.
Pritzker said the trio of bills represent an “unprecedented” $250 million statewide investment in community safety to “to disrupt cycles of violence in our neighborhoods through community-based solutions.”
“The work is urgent… As we work to end violence at its root, these programs will bring more support to those living with senseless tragedies… When we invest in our neighborhoods and our people, we build a public safety system that works for all of us. Illinois will be a leading example across the nation for reform, rehabilitation and justice,” Pritzker said.