Illinois police face barriers to mental health treatment
CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois police are still facing major hurdles when seeking mental health treatment despite the passage of a state law that aims to remove obstacles and lower the high suicide rate among officers, advocates said.
An Illinois law that took effect in August prohibits police departments from firing officers whose firearm owner’s identification cards have been revoked following a stay at a mental health facility, The Chicago Tribune reported.
A 2013 law requires health professionals to report to the state when someone is admitted to a mental health facility. The reports are then cross-referenced with FOID licenses, which are automatically revoked, with the goal of removing guns from the hands of people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The August law aims to encourage police officers to seek mental health treatment while being assured they’ll be able to keep their jobs. Some departments, including the Chicago Police Department, have begun placing officers who lost their FOID cards on desk duty.
Advocates say officers must now consider if they want to seek treatment for issues such as post-traumatic stress while being sidelined from their work.
“Even if the state says you can’t be fired for it, the city says you can’t work without it,” said Brian Warner, a former Chicago police officer and former chairman of the Chicago Police Survivors group. “You’re essentially stripping an officer’s identity. To rip that away from somebody is gut-wrenching.”
Republican Rep. Michael McAuliffe, who authored the bill, said he may revise it when the new legislative session begins next year in light of departments’ interpretations.
“Police officers see a lot of things on a daily basis that we don’t see,” McAuliffe said. “If they want to get help, we want them to get help.”
First responders are more likely to die by suicide than be killed in the line of duty, according to a national study from the Ruderman Family Foundation, a nonpartisan group that conducts research and advocacy on disability and mental health.
In Chicago, four police officers and one firefighter have died by suicide so far this year, compared to one police officer and one firefighter who’ve died in the line of duty.