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Cook County Sheriff talks search and rescue, crank calls, mental health
Kalli Hawkins

Cook County Sheriff talks search and rescue, crank calls, mental health

Between Memorial Day and the first weekend of June, the Cook County Sheriff’s department has been kept busy. While Sheriff Pat Eliasen told WTIP that the number of 911 calls made over the past few weeks is typical, there have been some notable items on the emergency call log sheets.

The central search and rescue story at the start of camping season was the search for two canoeists lost over Curtain Falls. However, Cook County Search and Rescue was also called upon for several incidents. During Memorial Day weekend, a party of six canoeists were rescued from the BWCA after they capsized. Concern over hypothermia led to their evacuation.

Eliasen also mentioned an incident with a camper ingesting an illegal drug and having a “bad trip.” He said, however, that by the time a search and rescue team arrived, the camper and the others in his party refused medical service and chose to stay at their campsite. Eliasen emphasized that everyone should feel free to call emergency services in an emergency, but he also said that those recreating outdoors should try to maintain control of their situation. He said, “If you’re going to go into the wilderness, yes, there are some bad things that can happen and if it does, we will, we will come for you. But there are other things you should be prepared for yourself, and you should be able to mitigate those circumstances long enough to either get yourself out or wait for help to come.”

On top of search and rescue calls, the emergency call log included quite a few calls that were classified as “crank calls”. Eliasen explained that this label can be misleading, and that the vast majority of crank calls are accidental calls. He said that the number is typically higher in the winter. Some iPhones include a setting that automatically places an emergency call when the phone senses significant impact. Eliasen said that his department fields many accidental calls during ski season, when skiers fall on the slopes with a phone in their pocket. He said that this setting can be turned off.

One issue that faces  law enforcement agencies across the state is navigating mental health resource access for people they arrest. General access to mental health care in rural areas was identified during the state legislative session as particularly difficult. A bill that aimed to strengthen mental health services in rural areas was introduced to the state House, but failed to pass before the end of the session. Funding for improving rural Emergency Medical Services was approved this session, but Eliasen said that he has not been informed whether there will be an increase in support for mental healthcare access in the context of law enforcement. Sen. Grant Hauschild told WTIP that rural mental healthcare access would be a priority for him going into the next session.

In the meantime however, Eliasen said that when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, sometimes it is an interaction with his department that facilitates that person’s access to help. He said, “Sometimes the only help that that they can get into motion is after we arrest them. And it should not be that way. I mean, we should not be arresting people for mental health crises.”

WTIP’s Kirsten Wisniewski spoke with Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen for a safety update from his office. Audio of that interview is below.