Governor Rauner, Illinois Lawmakers Weigh in on New Pre-Arrest Diversion Legislation

(Chicago) — Illinois lawmakers weighed in on the significance of Senate Bill 3023, signed on Wednesday by Governor Bruce Rauner. The first state legislation to authorize a comprehensive array of pre-arrest diversion program approaches, it supports law enforcement officers in creating handoffs to community-based treatment when they see people who have overdosed or are showing other signs of substance use disorder.

“Our police officers want to help us solve the problem, not just punish people,” said Rauner. “This effort builds community and allows our law enforcement and peace officers a way to give people help instead of a criminal record.”

The legislation supports “deflection” of individuals with substance use problems away from the justice system and into addiction treatment services. Traditionally, law enforcement has been faced with two options: arrest or walk away. Deflection provides a third option: connecting people to treatment and/or other social supports.

Chief sponsors Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), Senator Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) Representative Marcus C. Evans, Jr. (D-Chicago) and Representative Tom Demmer (R-Rochelle) spoke of its significance.

“We know the factors involved with treating mental health and substance abuse are multilayered and complex,” said Bush. “Early detection is key, as both issues can manifest into a lifetime of challenges if left untreated.”

“Substance abuse contributes to crime, hurts Illinois families and deteriorates communities,” said Evans. “Our Illinois law enforcement and human services leaders understand this reality, and I applaud their support of a solution in the form of SB 3023. I am happy to see this community- and family-improving idea become law.”

The bill originated based on the successes of the Safe Passage program in Dixon and A Way Out in Lake County, Illinois.

Demmer, whose district includes Dixon, lauded the role of the Safe Passage program as a model for the legislation. “Dixon has had great success with 215 people placed directly into treatment over incarceration,” he said. “This has resulted in a 39 percent reduction in arrests for drug crimes, as well as properly deflecting people to get the medically driven substance abuse help they need instead of making it difficult for them to get help because of a criminal record.”

“This new law focuses on preventive measures in dealing with the opioid crisis and other substance abuse issues,” said Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon). “It partners law enforcement agencies with licensed substance abuse service providers to treat individuals with substance abuse problems before they are arrested. Getting these individuals help before they enter the jail system will make it easier for them to resume their daily routines later without a criminal record, and will reduce the burden on local jail and court systems.”

“Deflection programs provide police officers with another option when dealing with someone they believe may have opioid or other substance abuse problems,” said Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods), who also sponsored the bill. “Continuously arresting and locking up such troubled individuals rarely fixes their underlying issue. It is my hope that with these deflection programs, we can get people the treatment and help they need to get better.”

Advancing Pre-Arrest Diversion in Illinois and Nationally

Leaders of the Safe Passage and A Way Out initiatives — Dixon City Manager and former Police Chief Danny Langloss and Police Chief Eric Guenther of Mundelein in Lake County, respectively — worked with TASC to spearhead the legislation.

“Senate Bill 3023 is the first of its kind legislation and recognizes a paradigm shift in law enforcement’s approach to those who struggle with substance use,” said Guenther. “I am very proud to have been a part of creating this legislation.”

“This is a hopeful day for Illinois law enforcement and those suffering from substance use disorder,” said Langloss. “The national opioid epidemic continues to impact every community. More than 72,000 Americans lost their lives last year to drug overdose. Behind every death there is a family. With this bill, the police now have new programs at their disposal that save lives and make our communities safer.

“We saw the successes of Chiefs Guenther and Langloss as meaningful and timely, and we wanted to help bring these opportunities for treatment to residents across the state,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “From our work in the justice system, from police to parole and all points between, we’ve seen that public policy can serve as a launching pad for significant progress. This legislation is an example of that.”

As police departments across the country began developing programs in response to the opioid crisis at an increasing pace, TASC’s Center for Health and Justice identified five overarching pathways by which law enforcement was diverting or “deflecting” people away from arrest and into treatment, housing, and social supports in the community. Building from this work, Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at TASC, co-founded the Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC), a national alliance of practitioners in law enforcement, behavioral health, community, advocacy, research, and public policy working to strategically widen  community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion.

PTACC has illustrated these five pathways by which police departments are making connections to community-based treatment and social services; law enforcement and community partners can choose any or all of these pathways based on local needs and resources.

“Based on TASC’s and PTACC’s work identifying, communicating, and shaping deflection concepts and strategies nationally, it’s gratifying to see my home state of Illinois take the lead in shaping this public policy,” said Charlier. “We are seeding a national movement for the newly emerging field of deflection and pre-arrest diversion, which promises to reshape the relationship between law enforcement, behavioral health, and our communities to better respond to people with serious mental illness, save lives in the opioid epidemic, make our neighborhoods safer by reducing crime, and allowing police to better focus their resources on crime fighting.”

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