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Portland Copwatch Testimony on
US Dept of Justice/City of Portland Settlement (Section 7)


Summary: While some aspects of the Agreement start to get at long-standing issues around police interactions with people in mental health crisis, both the design and implementation do not go far enough.

In its efforts to meet the goals of the Agreement prior to its entry into court, the City created a new "Behavioral Health Unit" (BHU) *-32 in the PPB, with a connected BHU advisory board (paragraphs 91-96). From what we have heard, the BHU advisory board, unlike its predecessor that was attached to the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), has access to the actual training curricula and materials used by the Bureau (as implied in paragraph 98). Unfortunately, the BHU's work is being conducted entirely out of the public eye. Although it's not necessary to make every one of the BHU's activities a public meeting, the board decided when it first met-- in February 2013-- not to allow the general public at any meetings. While they produce a newsletter, perhaps in response to the Agreement's suggestion to highlight successes of the CIT program (paragraph 104), the ability for the community at large and particularly people with mental health experience to weigh in on policies and trainings is severely curtailed by the way the BHU has been implemented.

Furthermore, the Mobile Crisis Unit (MCU)*-33, which teams up specialized BHU officers with mental health professionals (paragraphs 106-111), only requires one team car in every precinct. Since each precinct covers roughly 1/3 of the City, and officers work three different shifts, this hardly makes a dent ensuring non-police professionals are there to help where a uniform might escalate a situation just by its presence. Worse, the City keeps using this unit to give "second chances" to officers involved in violent, controversial events. Prior to the Agreement's passage at Council, one of the first officers in the MCU was Chris Burley, who was involved in the shooting of Keaton Otis in 2010. Otis was a young African American man with mental health issues who ended up being shot by 23 bullets; at least one witness says Burley punched Otis in the face before the bullets started flying. After the Agreement passed at Council, the City assigned Officer Bret Burton to the MCU. Burton was one of the three officers who tackled and beat James Chasse, Jr. to death in 2006. One would think that the City and the DOJ could see that a person with mental health issues who knows these officers' names might not feel safe seeing their nametag when approached during a crisis.

One of the few areas in which the Agreement makes great strides in the right direction is the affirmation of a hybrid CIT model, which continues to train all officers in de-escalation and mental health issues (paragraphs 97-98), but adds skilled members being an "on call" Enhanced CIT Team (paragraphs 99-105). The caution we raised at the time the Agreement was proposed is something that still causes us concern: the existence of such Teams should not relieve non-ECIT members of their responsibility to de-escalate and use their own training to resolve situations without violence.*-34 In 2001, day laborer Jose Mejia Poot was shot when a second set of officers came to the mental hospital he was in, after the first set which included a CIT-trained officer had gone off duty. Since ECIT officers may not always be the first responders, the skills need to be emphasized to all officers. Nothing in the Agreement guarantees that is happening, and we have heard anecdotally that non-ECIT officers continue to fall short.

Although it happened before the ECIT was created, an incident from January 2013 reported in the last Police Review Board report resulted in "Sustained" findings against an officer for "unprofessional conduct" in making taunting comments to a person with mental health issues, ultimately escalating the situation into a physical fight.*-35 Since all officers were given the full 40 hour regular CIT training and the City was on notice about the treatment of people with mental illness, the only good thing to say about this scenario is that the officer was found out of policy.

The agreement wisely prohibits officers who have been found out of policy for force or other mistreatment of people with mental illnesses to be on the CIT Teams (paragraph 101). However, very few officers are ever disciplined for such actions.*-36 In the incident listed above, for example, the Use of Excessive Force was "Unproven" while other behavior was found out of policy. The two other officers involved in the death of James Chasse (Burton was a Multnomah County Deputy at the time) had their discipline overturned in arbitration (and it was for failing to bring Chasse to the hospital after tasering him, not for the use of force). Thus, the prohibition should be broadened based on other kinds of misconduct, and perhaps include cumulative complaints or "Unproven" (insufficient evidence) findings.

Finally, it is important to point out that the Agreement calls for "one or more" drop off/walk-in centers for people with mental illness to be established by "mid-2013" (paragraph 89). Since no such center has materialized, this is clearly another area in which the Agreement will need to be modified before the City and DOJ proceed with implementation.

In summary, we hope that the City will be instructed to make at least some of the BHU advisory meetings open to the public, will use policy to ensure non-specialized officers rely on their Crisis Intervention Training, and will think strategically and carefully about who is assigned to their specialty units on mental health.

*-32- As we are logging instances where the Agreement's terms have been changed, we note here that the BHU was supposed to be called the "Addictions and Behavioral Health Unit" or ABHU.
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*-33- The Mobile Crisis Unit is described in the Agreement as the Mobile Crisis Prevention Team (MCPT).
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*-34- "Bringing a Plastic Mallet to Hammer in a Problem Nail," October 31, 2012, page 4, Exhibit H-PCW
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*-35- Police Review Board Report January 2014, pp. 24- 25
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*-36- 0.65% of force complaints by civilians have been sustained since the initiation of IPR in 2002, "Independent Police
Review Division's 2012 Annual Report Draws Attention Away from Shortcomings of System," Portland Copwatch, May 31, 2013

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DOJ Letter of Findings (September 12, 2012)

DOJ / City of Portland Settlment Agreement (November 14, 2012)

Next Section: 8. Training and the DOJ Agreement

Back to Copwatch DOJ information page

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Testimony sections:

1. Appealing Findings
  on Deadly Force Cases

2. Taser Use
  and the DOJ Agreement

3. Accountability--
  Independent Police Review

4. Accountability--
  Citizen Review Committee

5. Accountability--
  Police Review Board

6. Use of Force
  and the DOJ Agreement

7. Mental Health Provisions
8. Training
  and the DOJ Agreement

9. Tracking Police Contacts
  / Demographic Information

10. Implementation and

11. Oversight of the
  Agreement / Conclusion

(Additional Materials

Testimony in pdf format
  (16 pgs)

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

Posted January 31, 2014

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