How Lake County police are taking a new approach to people in mental health crisis
By Charles Keeshan and Susan Sarkauskas
Since 2018, Lake County sheriff's deputies have had more than 2,100 encounters with people suffering through a mental health crisis, Sheriff John Idleburg says.
And while his office tries to steer those people to services they need to get well, that work often happens days after the initial run-in.
That's about to change. Early next year, the sheriff's office and police departments in six Lake County towns will launch a new program that will team deputies and police officers with a social worker, clinician or peer specialist to form a sort of rapid response unit for calls involving a mental health crisis.
"I felt we needed to be more proactive in dealing with mental health issues," Idleburg told us this week. "We decided that we needed to have a program that is more helpful in identifying people in mental health crisis and giving them the tools and resources to become more productive citizens."
The one-year pilot program is an expansion of the sheriff's Crisis Outreach and Support Team, or COAST, and modeled after the Orange County, Florida, sheriff's office's Behavior Response Unit. Joining the sheriff's office are the Gurnee, Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, Vernon Hills and Lake Forest police departments.
"This collaborative effort by our agencies reflects the emerging needs within our communities and rises to the expectations of care for people in a mental health crisis," Gurnee Chief Brian Smith said, adding that the program will mean a "more efficient and accessible" response to people in need.
Idleburg refers to the teams as "second responders," making clear that they'd begin their work only after the first deputies or officers responding to a call secure the scene and resolve any issues of public safety.
Once on the scene, he said, they'll speak with the person in crisis and determine the best course of action. That could mean taking the person to a hospital for possible commitment, or to the county's Living Room Wellness Center in Waukegan, which offers free services including crisis intervention and counseling, along with basic needs such as healthy food, clean showers and transportation.
For now, Idleburg said, the COAST teams will work typical day shifts, but if the pilot year succeeds, he hopes to expand it to potentially a 24/7 operation with more police departments taking part.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to get people suffering a mental health affliction the help they need, create better interactions between law enforcement and those in crisis, and make communities safer in the process.
"I think we as a society need to help people who are having a mental health crisis within our community, and I think we can help them to be better people," Idleburg said. "I think it's better for all of us and for the safety of our community."
Long? Yes, but not too long:
A 78-year prison sentence is an unusually long term for someone with no prior criminal history.
But in the case of Kenneth Seplak, it was deserved, a state appeals court ruled last week in upholding the stiff punishment given the Round Lake Beach man in 2019.
Seplak, 42, was convicted of first-degree murder earlier that year for the 2016 killing of 30-year-old David Gorski of Libertyville. Authorities said Seplak, enraged after seeing Gorski go to the movies with a woman he wanted to date, followed the victim from the theater, pulled up next to him at a traffic light along Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville and shot him dead.
In his appeal, Seplak argued that the Lake County judge who sentenced him failed to take into account several factors that should have led to a shorter sentence, including his lack of a prior record, his strong family support and his stable work history.
The appellate court, however, said transcripts show the judge considered those factors but still issued the long sentence. And, the court said, the judge was right to do so.
"Not only do we find the court did not abuse its discretion, we agree with its determination that the sentence was warranted under the circumstances of this case," Judge Ann B. Jorgensen wrote in the unanimous decision. "As the trial court pointed out, defendant committed a senseless, coldblooded act that was predicated on a perceived romantic rivalry, in which he lay in wait for Gorski before following and killing him."
Seplak can still appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. In the meantime, he's serving his time in the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center downstate.
New station honored:
When Mount Prospect bought an old warehouse 3½ years ago, the village set out on a $30 million mission to convert the vacant building into the archetype of a modern police headquarters.
It appears the village succeeded. The station at 911 E. Kensington Road recently was recognized with a 2021 Law Enforcement Design Award by Officer Magazine.
Winners were chosen for their operational designs, as well as distinctive exteriors, interior environments that support wellness and reduce stress and anxiety, and enhanced security for personnel and civilian staff to work.
"The men and woman of the Mount Prospect Police Department are truly grateful to the citizens of Mount Prospect for our new home," Chief John Koziol said in an announcement of the award. "This state-of-the-art facility will forever allow us to provide the highest level of police services to those same deserving residents."
An Aurora man and a Crest Hill woman have been accused of trying to pull a fast one on the DuPage County state's attorney's office.
Quinn D. Meeks, 29, and Aniya S. Lightford, 25, each face two counts of forgery, alleging they submitted documents in August falsely claiming that they had completed court-ordered community service with the nonprofit Illinois Action for Children.
Meeks lives on the 400 block of Blackhawk Avenue in Aurora, and Lightford on the 1700 block of Arbor Lane in Crest Hill.
It is not clear on what cases they were sentenced to community service.
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