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Pritzker signs slate of public safety bills into law in Peoria, including co-responder pilot program

 Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, seated, signs a slate of public safety bills into law during a press conference on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 at the Peoria Civic Center. A behavioral health co-responder program spearheaded by Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth will begin in Peoria and three other Illinois cities in the next six months under legislation signed by Pritzker.
Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, seated, signs a slate of public safety bills into law during a press conference on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 at the Peoria Civic Center. A behavioral health co-responder program spearheaded by Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth will begin in Peoria and three other Illinois cities in the next six months under legislation signed by Pritzker.

Behavioral health co-responders will be working with law enforcement in four Illinois cities by the end of this year.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the co-responder bill (HB 4736) into law along with a slate of other public safety bills during an appearance Tuesday in Peoria.

The $10 million co-responder program will be piloted in Peoria, Springfield, Waukegan, and East St. Louis through 2029.

 Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a press conference Tuesday in Peoria ahead of signing a slate of public safety bills into law. Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton stands to his left.
Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a press conference Tuesday in Peoria ahead of signing a slate of public safety bills into law. Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton stands to his left.

"We're launching a victim-centered co-responder pilot program to pair victims and witnesses with social workers, who will provide survivors with trauma informed crisis intervention services, community resources for mental and behavioral health treatment and empathetic advocacy, starting right here in Peoria and in locations across the state," said Pritzker.

The initial pilot programs will launch within the next six months.

The co-responder bill was the brainchild of Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria.

In 2021, Echevarria said Peoria police responded to 1,247 calls for service involving a suicide or suicidal person, 978 calls for someone with a history of behavioral health issues, and 468 calls involving a person with cognitive impairment.

He said partnering Peoria police officers with trained social workers from UnityPoint Health will allow for more trauma-informed solutions and alternative interventions, as well as additional supports for victims and survivors.

Pritzker said the pilot program will set the stage for a broader "re-conceptualized victim support system" across the state.

The governor acknowledged there are ongoing issues plaguing the pipeline of new behavioral health professionals entering the field, but he said he's confident Illinois is on the right path to bridge those gaps through scholarship programs and attracting professionals from other states.

Gordon-Booth said she and her colleague, state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, also were able to work out a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate last October for UnityPoint Health, in part to give the co-responder program a nudge forward.

"Pricing in terms of staffing has to be incredibly competitive," she said. "We were able to actually get the Medicaid reimbursement rate increased for UnityPoint, specifically."

 State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, speaks at a press conference on May 10, 2022 ahead of Gov. JB Pritzker's signing of several public safety bills at the Peoria Civic Center.
Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, speaks at a press conference on May 10, 2022 ahead of Gov. JB Pritzker's signing of several public safety bills at the Peoria Civic Center.

High turnover rates also are plaguing the law enforcement field. Gordon-Booth said HB 3863, another bill signed Tuesday by the governor, will help attract and retain officers.

That includes dropping the retirement age to 55 for law enforcement officers, and building up police explorer programs for people under age 21.

She said that second component is important, as Gen Z shows a growing reluctance to enter certain job roles.

"We don't see as many of them going into professions like teaching and law enforcement and firefighters like they did maybe 25 years ago," she said. "So many of the elements of the way in which we will continue to recruit and retain law enforcement were worked on in collaboration with law enforcement."

Gordon-Booth said lawmakers have also worked with law enforcement officials to work out impending challenges with the SAFE-T Act.

"We moved some dates out in order to be able to work more effectively with law enforcement specific to the issue of healthcare, staffing and housing," she said.

Pritzker also signed HB 2985 into law on Tuesday. It creates a new fund allowing the state to directly pay funeral expenses for children murdered by gun violence. Previously, families paid those expenses upfront before applying for reimbursement.

Copyright 2022 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the Assignment Editor and Digital Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.