Renaud Testimony to Portland City Council on Andre Gladen

March 6, 2019

Since 2006, the year James Chasse a gentle man with schizophrenia was beaten to death by three Portland police officers, the City of Portland has failed to reduce or eliminate the routine harm done by police to people with mental illness. Mostly you’ve failed to understand the solution.

Chasse wasn’t the first nor the last. In 2006 the PPB killed three people, in 2007 they killed two, in 2008 there was just one, and 2010 made up for 2009 with five. In 2011 there was one person killed by police, 2012, 2013 and 2014 had two each, 2015 had three, 2016 had one, 2017 had two, and 2018 had three. That’s twenty-seven people over a dozen years, and – this is important – every one of them were in a mental illness crisis of some form.

Andre Gladen’s death was the first of 2019 and was typical. An African American man with bipolar disorder, clearly ill and in need of compassion and medical services. A homeowner call to 911 brought a police officer who predictably escalated the situation and within moments killed Mr. Gladen.

Since 2006 the strategy selected by this council and by it’s mayors to end this problem was more training. Police welcomed more training – though Portland already had well trained officers. They got more funding for training. They got a training facility. Now after a dozen years – and thanks to people like Deputy Chief Bob Day – the Portland Police Bureau’s training of officers expanded their understand of mental illness, and developed tactics to assist people in crisis. All good. But, as it turns out training didn’t solve the problem of people getting killed. Good in it’s own right – but basic misunderstanding of the problem, first by Mayor Tom Potter, and then by each council in its avoidance of conflict with the Portland Police Association.

The solution is to un-involve police officers from people in mental illness crisis. To separate them – get them as far away from each other as possible. This is a vastly complicated task requiring interdisciplinary cooperation across multiple governments – and is worthy of an entirely different conversation. In the dozen years since James Chasse was killed, the work to reduce contacts between officers and people in mental illness or addiction crisis has not begun. Instead this council invited the Department of Justice to weld law enforcement to people in mental illness crisis. This was a grievous error. As I have said before to this council, the law is the most expensive and least effective response to mental illness and addiction.

I understand crisis. As a person keenly interested in the welfare of people with mental illness I am routinely involved in crisis – from before the beginning and sometimes until long after the end. For people with chronic recurring disorders who have not received treatment and or are not in recovery, crisis is predictable. As a person with close to thirty-five years of recovery I’ve gained skills and the personal initiative to eliminate crisis from my life. All these persons killed were my biological kin. We have the same sort of disorders. I have the privilege of recovery – they did not. I had help. They did not.

It’s the elimination of mental illness and addiction crisis which will reduce the number of persons killed by police. We can stop this – but the work needs to be done before police arrive, not so much after.

What this council, as individuals and as a collective voice, can do is learn the power and potential of recovery from these illnesses. Recovery is the least expensive and most effective way to reduce use of force by police. And use of force against children, spouses, neighbors, and strangers. People in recovery rarely commit crimes. They find and stay in housing. They get and keep jobs. They pay their bills and taxes. They even vote.

Learn about recovery by talking to people in recovery about their recovery. Ask, what did it take for you to start getting well? People in recovery are proud to tell you. Ask, do you work with others who are new in recovery? People in recovery will introduce you to others. Or, how’s your family? People in recovery make peace and go home everyday and they know they’re the lucky ones.

I wish Andre Gladen had a chance to recover from bipolar disorder. It’s a complicated illness where a night without sleep, a day without food, or a stressful event can start a crisis. Gladen needed help – not a fight. And he needed it a long time before he was killed by a Portland police officer.