Response to Saltzman, Sizer, Fritz proposal: now do it.

Here some of our suggestions to improve trust and respect between the Portland police and persons with a diagnosis of mental illness and / or addiction from over the past year.

Testimony at City Council – November 2009
Op Ed in The Oregonian – November 2009
Take the police out of crisis intervention business – March 2010

The newly proposed recommendations, as outlined, make no substantial changes by the police bureau, but instead ask for additional services from an underfunded mental health system, and for persons with a diagnosis of mental illness to show trust for officers and invite them to socialize.

Saltzman, Fritz and Sizer developed the proposed recommendations in a vacuum, behind closed doors, with selected friendly conversations, often with agencies and individuals who sought and gained financial favors. The closed-door decision-making shows the meek political softness of those who are making the proposal.

Substantial immediate change is within our grasp

1. The five necessary changes as defined by the AMA Coalition for Justice & Police Reform need to be implemented.

2. New leadership at police commissioner and police chief should be dedicated to changing the culture of the Portland Police Bureau.

3. Changing the culture happens through new recruitment and training strategies which value interpersonal skills over firearms solutions.

4. Changing the culture happens by giving the chief the capacity to terminate an individual officer’s employment at will. We are all human so immaculate contracts represent a cynical illusion of perfection.

5. Create a Mental Health and Addiction Roundtable, akin to the Sexual Minorities Roundtable, to create public relationships and public rapport between those who care for the welfare of persons with diagnosis of mental illness and addiction and the police bureau.

The proposed recommendations from Police Chief Sizer and Police Commissioner Saltzman lack dedicated funding, a time-line for implementation, responsible parties, and accountability benchmarks. Without these defining qualities, the proposal is bureaucratic smoke which obscures political weakness.

Recommendations from the Sizer / Saltzman / Fritz report include:

1. Increase outreach between law enforcement officers and mental health professionals, advocates and patients, many of whom have feared turning to police since Chasse’s death. Officers should participate in small-group discussions in places where those with mental illnesses feel comfortable, rather than expecting community members to attend city events.

Our comment – Rather than trying to teach cat to dance, and instead of relying on litigation and self-interested insurance policies, the city should create a set-aside fund to pay for the damage its police officers do to citizens. A step toward regaining trust is admitting failure and not repeating the same mistake.

The city should also institute community policing approaches. Officers should get to know the individuals in their areas who are involved in mental health services as providers and especially as consumers to better understand the issues and develop relationships. Officers should process with individuals involved in mental health crises after the incidents to further understand what took place, how matters might be better addressed, and to reestablish the relationships.

2. Strengthen the Crisis Intervention Advisory Council, which is made up of mental health professionals who advise the Police Bureau. Council members should be involved in suggesting policy and training for situations when police might encounter individuals in crisis. They also should provide feedback in a “non-disciplinary context” to officers after such interactions.

Our comment – The Portland Police Bureau and its sister organization the Portland Police Association have arrogantly asserted police policy trumps human and civil rights. Advisement won’t impact people who are adamant about not listening. This suggestion puts the burden of trust on those who don’t have reason to trust.

Create a non-crisis-driven Mental Health and Addiction Roundtable, akin to the Sexual Minorities Roundtable, which meets monthly to create public relationships and public rapport between those who care for the welfare of persons with diagnosis of mental illness and addiction and the police bureau.

3. Partner mental health workers with police officers to respond to mental health crisis calls. The team response would free uniformed officers to return to patrol duties and help deal with those who have repeatedly required police intervention.

Our comment – This idea seeks to further justify police officers being essential to the solution. Why not partner mental health outreach workers with more mental health outreach workers and let cops do something else? (You can hire / equip / training / supervise three mental health outreach workers for the price of one police officer).

Too many 911 calls are triaged to police officers. We need additional options for crisis intervention within the mental health community such as socializing opportunities, employment and employment training, and clinical outreach. A mental health crisis is not the same thing as a crime. A hammer always seeks to nail something.

4. Expand the role of the city’s crisis intervention training coordinator to become the Police Bureau’s contact for mental health workers after incidents involving people with mental illnesses.

Our comment – No thanks. This is personnel patchwork at its worst. The current training coordinator is well liked. The last one was terrible. This bureaucratic fix relies on the current coordinator staying in place forever and gives her implicit responsibly but no power to make change.

It’s the role of the police commissioner to speak to the public, to all persons, not just “mental health workers,” about the actions of the police bureau. We want access and answers from elected persons with both the responsibility and the power to cause accountability, not a mid-level training manager.

5. Investigate voluntary sharing of information among the city, county and mental health providers to ensure that people with chronic mental illnesses receive support.

Our comment – Investigate is a soft word when it bumps into the legal realities of the Health Information Privacy and Protections Act. Persons with diagnosis of mental illness and addiction do not want their private and protected health care information shared involuntarily with criminal justice agencies.

6. Reaffirm the city’s support for funding for a crisis assessment and treatment center. Former Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler and Portland Mayor Sam Adams had committed to open a 16-bed facility offering short-term mental health stabilization to 600 to 800 people each year.

The County and City aren’t currently funding the 16 beds they’ve already built – see Amanda Waldroupe’s story, Minds Willing but Budgets Weak

Progress on the sub-acute facility has occurring behind closed doors, without the participation of the community of persons who might use the facility. The design of any facility needs to be patient-centered, not vendor-centered. Prospective vendors are the ones who have been invited to design the facility. The Crisis Triage Center was closed in 2001 because it failed to meet community expectations – the County is making same planning mistake a decade later.

It’s not accurate to conclude a sub-acute facility would have impact on the police use of force against James Chasse, Kendra James, Jose Mejia Poot, James Jahar Perez, Dickie Dow, Aaron Campbell, or Jack Collins. The deaths of these people are examples of how CIT and the status quo haven’t solved the problem.

7. Use the city’s Government Relations Office to work for state and federal funding for mental health services.

Our comment – Good. We agree. We’ve been saying the same thing. We hope you know how to follow through.