Sep 21, 2022 - News

Differences between 911 and new 988 line in Chicago

Illustration of a woman's hands making a heart shape over a red siren light.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

👋 Hey, it's Monica. A few weeks ago a friend called with an urgent question.

What happened: She saw someone having a mental health crisis on a street in Logan Square and wanted to call for help without involving police.

Context: I misunderstood the role of 988 operators, who I thought could dispatch mobile help. They can't.

  • Instead, they offer assistance to people in crisis over the phone.

Why it matters: Traditional sirens and police officers aren't always the ideal solution to a mental health crisis. Police responses to such situations have sometimes ended in tragedy.

  • But the city isn't currently set up to dispatch mental health professionals to all emergencies that could use them.

The intrigue: Some emerging programs can dispatch specialists to people in crisis.

  • The city's Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) pilot launched last fall to dispatch mental health professionals, with or without crisis intervention trained police officers, through 911.
  • It currently serves Uptown, Lakeview, North Center, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Gage Park, West Elsdon, West Lawn, Chicago Lawn and West Englewood.
  • Officials say they have already responded to nearly 400 calls without any use of force, arrests or significant injuries to staff.

What's more: A new Mobile Crisis Response Team was launched this summer by nonprofit Thresholds.

  • Contacted through (773) 572-5464, the program can send help to three ZIP codes covering parts of Lakeview, Uptown, Andersonville and Edgewater.

Yes, but: Both services are available only on weekdays during business hours, which is not the only time people go through a crisis.

The big picture: Other cities are piloting similar programs while collecting data on their efficacy and potential for expansion.

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