Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, along with Chief Rosie Sizer and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz unveiled a report today outlining steps the city is taking in improving mental health services.
The changes and proposals include:
• The city is pairing one officer with a mental health provider from Project Respond – the bureau's primary mental health crisis response team -- to do joint patrols as part of a pilot program to be a better response to people in crisis.
• Providing Crisis Intervention Training in all "refresher" police training courses, while strengthening the mission and oversight of the CIT advisory council.
• Create "Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center" that would be a sub-acute facility for those having trouble managing their symptoms. The city recommends partnering with Multnomah County to help provide funding for such a facility.
• Change 9-1-1 policy to allow emergency respondents to connect callers with the Multnomah County Crisis Line rather than sending police.
• Create drop-in centers, housing, emergency beds and reinstate funding for mental health services that were once provided by state and federal agencies.
Don Moore, the advocacy coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said police shouldn't be the first responders for the mentally ill.
"The deeper problem is the lack of care and services," he said. "As a result, we've asked police officers to fill the gap. I just doesn't work."
He called the city's outline for recommendations "good first steps" but not a solution.
Fritz – who worked for nearly two decades as a psychiatric nurse at OSHU – said there needs to be multiple solutions taken to address the broken mental health system. Today, about 50 percent of prisoners exhibit symptoms of mental illness, according to figures from NAMI.
"Nobody believes incarceration is the best outcome," Sizer said.
The process to reform the interaction of police and the mentally ill – and to improve the services given to those suffering from a mental illness in Portland – largely began after the killing of James Chasse in December of 2008. Chasse suffered from schizophrenia and was tackled by police after officers thought they saw him urinating in public. Chasse died from injuries after he was initially taken to jail instead of the hospital. A multi-million dollar lawsuit by the Chasse family is currently making its way through the court system.
The calls for reform were amplified by two deaths in 2010 – the shooting deaths of Aaron Campbell in January, and Jack Collins in March.