Pritzker signs public safety legislation highlighting mental health services, trauma-informed police training
PEORIA (WGEM) - Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois state lawmakers recognized gun violence as a public health crisis in the state last fall. Lawmakers passed several plans this spring to combat the issue with an emphasis on mental health resources.
Police departments in Peoria, Springfield, East St. Louis, and Waukegan will participate in a co-responder pilot program. Each of those departments will have six months to hire social workers who can help crime victims who may need mental or behavioral health services after traumatic events. Democratic lawmakers included $10 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to fund the pilot program.
Pritzker signed the co-responder legislation with sponsors of the legislation cheering the effort in the River City.
“Illinois will be a leading example across the nation for reform, rehabilitation, and justice,” Pritzker said.
These crime service specialists will work alongside social service agencies to create wraparound services for victims. That could be a collaboration between community groups, hospitals, school districts, or the juvenile justice system. Social workers will also help victims find safe housing, transportation, or legal services if needed.
This law was championed by Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) who lost her stepson Derrick Booth Jr. to gun violence in 2014.
“The state is stepping up to say we know that this is a challenge,” Gordon-Booth said. “We know that you need the mental health support, the behavioral health support. We want to be there and we want to walk with you every step of the way.”
All homicide investigators must be trained on victim-centered and trauma-informed investigations by July 1, 2023. This law also creates a grant program to help local governments run anonymous tip lines with cash rewards for people with information leading to arrests.
The state will also create a new financial assistance program to help victims and witnesses aiding in the prosecution of perpetrators of violent crimes. Funds from the witness protection program can be used for emergency or temporary living costs, moving expenses, utilities, mental health treatment, and lost wage assistance.
“We are not just reacting to violence. We know our communities deserve so much more than that,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. “They deserve a system that is well-equipped to tackle the vast complex roots of violence as well as the day-to-day support. They deserve urgency and forward-thinking.”
The legislation also establishes a crime reduction task force made up of lawmakers, law enforcement, criminal justice and legal experts, crime victims, and witnesses. Members will meet at least four times to review the latest research on efforts to reduce crime and hear testimony from stakeholders. The task force is required to submit a report to the General Assembly and the governor’s office by March 1, 2023.
A separate new law creates a state fund to cover funeral expenses for children taken too soon by gun violence. The legislation honors the life of Mychal Moultry Jr., a 4-year-old boy shot and killed last year while getting his hair braided in a house on the south side of Chicago. MJ’s family struggled to pay for a proper burial and was forced to choose cremation. Pritzker said MJ’s mother Angela Gregg should never have dealt with that loss in order to change policy in Illinois.
The Strength to Love Foundation has helped families who lost children to gun violence by paying for funeral and burial costs. President and founder Dr. Dave Nayak explained the average cost of a funeral is now $10,000 and it could rise with inflation. Many families try to receive the money through crowdsourcing or church donations.
“The Mychal Moultry Jr. Act allows the state of Illinois to directly pay the service providers up to $10,000 for funerals and burials of children who are under the age of 17 who are murdered by gun violence,” Nayak said. “Direct payments to service providers will help alleviate the pain families are experiencing with this financial hardship.”
Pritzker also signed a bill into law creating a new state fund for recruitment and retainment of law enforcement. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board will now have the ability to provide grants to local governments, public higher education institutions, and qualified nonprofit organizations to help hire and retain police.
“Police are community. The community needs police,” Gordon-Booth said. “And it is our jobs as leaders to identify the path to create a better opportunity for community and police to work together better, to work together stronger. And I think that we’ve done a pretty good job.”
Grants will be prioritized for hiring and retaining law enforcement in underserved areas across the state. Lawmakers also want the program to improve diversity within the police force. Rep. Dave Vella (D-Rockford) said it was important to listen to law enforcement and understand what was needed to address a crucial need.
“This is going to help us secure quality officers for our communities,” Vella said.
Each of the new laws took effect immediately.
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