9-1-1 dispatchers learn how to recognize, respond to callers with potential mental health issues

FOX 32 NEWS - A program sparked by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald is now being put in place.

It’s a new training program designed to help police respond to calls involving mental health issues.

9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers received special training Friday in how to recognize and respond to callers with potential mental health issues. The eight hour training sessions have been underway for months. By mid-January, all 500 call takers and dispatchers will have been trained.

“This is the most important training that my people go through. Ya know, in today's environment, it's very likely that the first call for someone in a mental health crisis is going to come in through 9-1-1,” said OEMC Executive Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau.

Mayor Emanuel ordered the additional training last January in response to the release of the Laquan McDonald video, and shortly after a police officer shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier. The 19-year-old LeGrier, according to his parents, was taking medication for emotional problems. The officer who shot him claims he was swinging a baseball bat, threatening the lives of officers. OEMC's director says police need to know what to expect when they arrive on a scene. 

“If someone is in a mental health crisis, there are certain things that they might want to use. Maybe more distance. Calming effects. Taking a little bit of time to try to de-escalate the situation,” Tate-Nadeau said.

One of the areas covered Friday was the catch phrases that identify mental health issues. For example, when a caller says he's dealing with a nut job, or someone whose cheese has slid off his cracker.

Amy Lovell's been a dispatcher for 18 years.

“The focus is on mental health right now, but I think it’s going to help in a lot of other kind of calls,” said Lovell.

OEMC says the training over the last year is already paying off. In 2015, there were about 5500 callers identified with mental health issues. This year, there have been four times as many.