'I support calls for more resources': Sycamore alderman backs stronger mental health aid with cops

Also: Sycamore Police Department to outfit officers with body cameras

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SYCAMORE - Sycamore Ward 1 Alderman Josh Huseman said Monday he wants to see the Sycamore Police Department work more closely with social service agencies to address mental health crises in the community.

Huseman spoke at the head of the meeting Monday -- the first one held in-person at the Sycamore City Center since the start of the pandemic, though participants wore masks and some still attended via Zoom -- and said he's been researching social justice, de-escalation tactics and public safety.

"Admittedly, some of this was new to me as an elected official and I was happy to learn about the ongoing efforts of our police department," Huseman said. "Much of this happened without a lot of pomp and circumstance."

The Sycamore Police Department will also be outfitting their squad cars and officers with more surveillance footage, including body worn cameras, said Police Chief Jim Winters.

"Within the last couple weeks, the police department received eight in-car video camera systems, purchased mostly through grant funding," Winters said. "We'll start the installation process on those fairly soon, and once we get that we'll start implementation of body cameras."

Winters said he and Deputy Chief Steve Cook were until recently the only ones trained in crisis intervention, but the department recently certified two more officers in a 40-hour class as a crisis intervention specialist, and are working to train more.

Huseman said mental wellness resources in the community need more attention.

"I support the calls for more resources here," he said. "This will take coordinated efforts with the health care center, social services and the city, and I personally would like to mention that I support what the City of DeKalb is doing with the Ben Gordon Center and their police department."

Earlier this month, amid months-long calls for police reform in the wake of continued civil unrest and demonstrations against police brutality, the City of DeKalb announced the DeKalb Police Department would be restructured into two departments: community services and violence prevention. Among its new initiatives is also a continued partnership with Northwestern Medicine's Ben Gordon Center, to station a licensed social worker from the center for 30 hours a week at the department to respond to 911 calls.

Winters said his department also works with the Ben Gordon center, and plans to expand partnerships.

Huseman said he also supports the Kishwaukee United Way's 211 program, a free and confidential hot line which helps connect people with resources all over the continent when they're in a mental health crisis.

"I think we can appreciate the ongoing work that's been done but recognize there's still more to do and in my opinion one area may be mental health," Huseman said.

Mayor Curt Lang echoed Huseman's calls for more mental health services and said "it's an interesting time to say the least."

"Our officers have had 3,200 hours of training in the year 2019 on different parts of law enforcement," Lang said, adding the department is certified through the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. "So we're doing our best to keep current with the standards."