The Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement teams will drive in white vans, which officials said were designed to not look like conventional law enforcement or public safety vehicles to be more approachable. Credit: City of Chicago

CHICAGO — The city’s CARE program — where a team of mental health experts and not just police respond to people in crisis — is partnering with Harvard University and a Texas-based mental health policy institute so it can grow.

The program began one year ago as part of an effort to stop relying solely on police to respond to Chicagoans experiencing mental health emergencies. The program is known as CARE, or the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement program, and it helps connect residents in need to crisis centers, shelters and support systems.

This month, Chicago was one of four cities and counties selected by Harvard’s Government Performance Lab to participate in its Alternative 911 Emergency Response Implementation Cohort. The cohort is designed to support local leaders in implementing and expanding alternative responses to 911 calls, according to a Harvard lab news release.

CARE applied to the cohort with the goal of continuing to improve, said Matthew Richards, the city’s behavioral health deputy commissioner.

Harvard’s initial focus is going to be on the city’s 911 call center and working to get response teams to as many calls as possible, Richards said.

“What they’re doing is they’re looking at our data, providing suggestions based on best practices that they’ve seen in other cities, providing coaching to our team members … about how we can continue to improve,” Richards said.

CARE is also partnering with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, based in Texas. The institute is working with the Police Department and response teams to explore how CARE can safely extend into situations with more risk, Richards said.

CARE officials will meet with Harvard’s Government Performance Lab and Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute on a weekly basis.

The program has three teams: One team has covered Uptown, North Center and Lakeview, and the other has covered Auburn Gresham and Chatham. A third team recently began covering the Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon and West Lawn area.

The teams run 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, responding to relevant calls so residents in crisis have fewer encounters with police.

There are plans to add another team to the West Side later this year, Richards said.

In its first year of operation, the City’s CARE teams have responded to more than 295 calls with zero use of force or arrests.

Chicagoans can learn more about the city’s CARE responses and see the program’s public data online here.

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