Is it Safe to Call 911 in Crisis? Maybe, Maybe Not / CC BY 2.0

Despite a recent warning in The Skanner, Derald Walker, CEO of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, thinks Portlanders can, and should, call 911 in crisis, if needed. It’s appropriate, Walker said, and can connect people with resources.

The Skanner’s warning came after the shooting death of Aaron Campbell on Jan. 29. Campbell was, according to The Oregonian, “an unarmed African American guilty of nothing except being suicidal and distraught.” Rev. Jesse Jackson called the death an “execution.”

Walker said he realizes that people have concerns and fears, which he called unfortunate, but, to some extent, understandable.

He added, “I think the Portland city police are trying to handle a lot of things on the streets that, quite frankly, if mental health services were more available, they probably wouldn’t be confronted with.”

Resources Needed

Walker believes that Portland police are trying to reduce the number of bad outcomes. The bureau has adopted crisis intervention training, which is now required for all officers.

But additional resources are needed, said Walker.

“We need more housing for people with mental illness, more after-hours service for people with mental illness – for everybody. And people aren’t always eligible for treatment. If you’re not on the Oregon Health Plan, you may not have access to mental health treatment; we need universal funding for mental health services. Funding is just not adequate at this point.”

Build Networks

Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, said that police shootings are actually down in recent years.

Still, in the past five years, at least five people with mental illness, or in crisis, have been killed by Portland police:

Aaron Campbell, 2010
James Chasse, Jr., 2006
Jerry Goins, 2006
Tim Grant, 2006
Raymond Gwerder, 2005

Handelman points out that it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of cases, since mental illness is not always reported, and “crisis” is open to interpretation.

Asked whether people should call 911 in crisis, Handelman said ideally, people wouldn’t have to.

“In my opinion, people should build networks with family, friends, coworkers and neighbors so that, to the extent possible and reasonable, there is no need to call police. I also believe that a person should be able to call 911 and explain they have a mental health crisis situation and that should be able to be resolved without an armed police presence.

“People need to make up their own minds about what to do, but certainly given the possible outcomes I hope that more community building and less reliance on armed intervention is in this city’s future.”