It looks like the tragic police killing of Aaron Campbell has opened a pipeline of ideas and dialogue that could lead to change. We certainly hope so.
Last week we wrote about why not to call the police. This week we want to offer some specific solutions.
We want to pat Mayor Sam Adams on the back for doggedly insisting that the larger issue of police violence is rooted in the disparities that communities of color live with every day. Everybody can be a leader when there's no controversy, but leadership is about difficult times.
It seems to us that the Portland Police Bureau does not need more training – or a new training facility, as Chief Rosie Sizer suggested last week. It needs tighter coordination of its operations. This is particularly true whenever law enforcement is, unfortunately, called to the scene of a mental health crisis. Cops are not counselors.
Yet there is another side of the police department – the side shown by true community policing efforts like the GREAT program, which brings some 40 different officers into schools and park facilities offering weeks of life skills training for middle and elementary schoolers and their families.
There's also Law Enforcement for Youth, which offers grants to individual kids to help pay for quality after school programs (the deadline to apply is Feb. 28, go to www.lawenforcementforyouth.com ).
Also the Gang Violence Task Force that gathers twice monthly with police, nonprofit groups' outreach workers, social workers, school district representatives and local business owners – all sharing information about hot spots and troubled individuals, effectively finding ways for civilian professionals to use their skills in counseling, engagement and education in coordination with police.
These efforts are often under-funded, under-utilized, and subject to constant budget cuts.
Here's our recommendation: rather than spending money on more police training, funds should be increased for grassroots community outreach organizations and programs designed to head off violent confrontations before they happen. Poverty, joblessness, truancy, shrinking mental health resources -- we need to find ways to take more of these social service problems off the police department's plate.
Last week we wrote about a unique and successful idea by Washington State Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), who found a way to funnel more than $3.5 million from the state auto theft prevention authority competitive grant funds to create new jobs for "street soldiers" – outreach workers now providing about 565 at-risk youth and their families with needed services to stabilize their lives.
This is a great potential model for Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman's idea of pairing law enforcement with mental health workers on crisis call-outs, and potentially in other areas as well.
Saltzman presides over the often overlooked GVTF community effort – and we want to commend him for the work he does that appears to go unnoticed in the current furor over police leadership.
We need more ways to prevent fatal outcomes between citizens and police. If you have an idea, email us.
What do you think?