Cops need specialized training

From Portland Tribune, March 6, 2006

It has come to my attention that the Memphis plan for Crisis Intervention Team training in Portland seeks “well-spoken” mental health consumers who have had recent experience being arrested by local police.

There are very few people around who fit the criteria.

Well-spoken mental health consumers typically have been in recovery or remission for years, their arrest or homeless experiences would then likely have been 15 or more years ago.

Consumers with recent arrest records – mostly for “nuisance” crimes – tend not to be considered well-spoken for many reasons. Some, like James Chasse Jr., may have lost previously exceptional well-spokenness, due to onset of mental illness.

Other people may have lost their benefits due to funding cuts and, thus, are unable or unwilling to connect with available health services.

A few years ago, training the Portland police to work with people who have mental illness was done by those people who live with these disorders – the Consumer Political Awareness and Action Group at the mental health drop-in center at Unity Inc. downtown. I was the facilitator.

Since the Memphis training program limits police training to contact with only “well-spoken” mental health consumers (folks they’re quite unlikely to meet on the streets), I would urge Mayor Tom Potter and Chief Rosie Sizer to require interactive, adjunct training with a representative cross-section of community mental health consumers.

Prior to the training I helped facilitate, many people who received care at Unity Inc. were so frightened of police, they wouldn’t even come to trainings run by those outside the mental health community.

But during the Unity Inc. training, people answered any questions the officers had, and they answered our questions, too.

We were delighted to help train the officers. Police participants seemed very glad to relate to us on an equal basis (perhaps for the first time). It would have been almost fun, had it not been so momentous.

Marian Drake
Northeast Portland