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Peoria police update next steps for behavioral health co-responders program

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria (middle front) explains the details of the co-responder program as State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth (back left), State Senator Dave Koehler (back right) and Peoria City/County Health Department Executive Director Monica Hendrickson (back right) look on.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria explains details of the co-responder program as State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, back left, State Sen. Dave Koehler, back right, and Peoria City/County Health Department Executive Director Monica Hendrickson, far right, look on.

The Peoria police behavioral health co-responder program, originally set to be up and running by the end of 2022, is one step closer to happening. But it needs to find a director first.

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth’s House Bill 4736, authorizing an initiative to create police and social worker co-responder programs in several Illinois communities, including Peoria.

“We all know that many of our communities are facing some very serious challenges. And oftentimes, when those challenges are addressed, they're addressed with a call to 911,” Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, said at a news conference on Friday. “Many of those crises that are responded to don't necessarily need a police officer.”

The proposed program will partner with Carle Health to hire licensed clinical social workers. The social workers provide support and services for survivors of violence — both at the scene of a crime and on an ongoing, case management level. From the start of the program, the social workers will have their own cars to respond to scenes when needed.

After acquiring more staff, the department also plans to build a team to assist in responding to scenarios like barricaded suspects and mental health crises.

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria compares the program to choosing the right tool for a home improvement project.

“Can I take a screwdriver and get a nail in the wall? It's gonna take me a little bit longer,” said Echevarria. “But if I have the right tool to put that nail in, then we're going to get the right results.”

But there have been delays.

Gordon-Booth claims Peoria’s $3 million budget for the program was held up during processing at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA).

“So we had a friendly conversation about the holdup,” she said. “And then things began to move forward. And so that was a holdup on the agency side.”

In April, Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich told WCBU the ICJIA wanted a review of the budget that includes money for travel, equipment and contractual services with area hospitals.

On the personnel side, it includes cutouts to hire eight social workers, as well as an administrative assistant, a data analyst, a community relations/crime prevention manager and a director for the entire program.

The director is the next piece of the puzzle. Dr. Derrick Booth, executive director of community services at Carle Health affiliate Trillium Place, is in charge of finding the right candidate.

“We're definitely looking for someone with behavioral health experience, also some legal experience, criminal justice experience” said Booth. “This is a, like I said, a well-rounded approach.”

Booth said the candidate also will need experience managing large budgets. There’s no specific timeline for hiring the director; officials want to take time to find a good fit.

Once hired, Echevarria said the director will work directly with him to develop the Wisconsin Avenue substation into a headquarters for the co-responder program. He plans to continue direct communication.

“No red tape and a command structure where they need to report to a sergeant and a lieutenant and a captain, then the assistant chief and myself,” Echevarria said. “They will report directly to me, they will have the freedom and the ability to do the things they need to do.”

You can see the listing and job description for the position here.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.