Successful debut for Lake County's police, mental health clinician team-up program
Since last February, a program that partners police officers with social workers to form mental health crisis response units has offered help to more than 1,200 Lake County residents.
The program is an expansion of the Lake County sheriff's Crisis Outreach and Support Team, or COaST, and law enforcement leaders said it has had an immediate positive effect on the community.
"COaST has been able to de-escalate tense situations and bring them to a successful resolution, where the person in distress receives the help they need, versus being arrested," Sheriff John Idleburg said.
In July, a COaST clinician and officer team were sent out to help a teenager with autism who was behaving aggressively. The duo relieved the officers who initially responded and spent substantial time with the teen and the teen's mother, provided therapeutic techniques to help avoid a similar situation in the future and connected the mother to services for her own mental care, officials said.
"By having a specialized unit like this we're able to spend time with people and build up a rapport," said Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Jim Yanecek, who supervises the program. "Folks can see we aren't there to slap a Band-Aid on the situation and go."
While COaST teams are called to help people experiencing a crisis the vast majority of the more than 1,200 interactions with the public come during follow-up visits with people who've recently interacted with police.
Yanecek said many of those contacts are brief encounters where COaST officials ask if the person would like help and directs them to local services vetted by the program including Catholic Charities, Nicasa Behavioral Health Services and the Living Room Wellness Center in Waukegan.
"We are able to point people in the right direction but it is up to people that they take the help," Yanecek said. "The program is truly voluntary we can't force anyone to do this."
Yanecek said sometimes people they make contact with aren't ready to get help right away.
"Nine months later someone will call in and say 'I wasn't ready to talk then, but I am now,'" Yanecek said.
And, he added, sometimes COaST teams have multiple visits with the same person or family if they still need help.
"Mental health is not one and done," Yanecek said. "It's not a here take this pill and call me if it doesn't go away kind of thing."
Idleburg called the first year of the program a major success and said he hasn't met a single community member or stakeholder opposed to it.
COaST is a collaboration between the county and the Gurnee, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Mundelein and Vernon Hills police departments.
"The COaST program has been an invaluable resource for our residents and a terrific tool for officers," Mundelein Police Chief John Monahan said. "Another benefit to the department is the knowledge, skills, experience, and additional resources that participating officers have brought back and passed on to their colleagues."
Perhaps the best indication of how Lake County leaders feel about the program, which initially was approved for just one year, happened in October when they elected to extend it for a second year.