Testimony of Beckie Child to Portland City Council

to Portland City Council, October 29, 2014
in reference to Compliance Officer / Community Liaison contract for DOJ v City of Portland

I’m Beckie Child, a mental health advocate and an adviser to the Mental Health Association of Portland.

beckie hdshot5I was invited to participate in the selection of candidates for the contract of Compliance Officer / Community Liaison, or COCL. I read the applications, references and documents.  I attended private briefing meetings and heard the final presentations.  In the past I have participated in hiring processes for the state and county, and for private organizations.

I was asked to participate in the COCL selection after my colleagues dismissed the city’s hiring process as intentionally flawed. Frankly, my colleagues suspect city administrators’ meddling will inevitably produce a weak contractor, unable to make changes, who will rubber-stamp the work on the settlement being done by the Portland Police Bureau and city.

The hiring announcement produced a handful of candidates with underwhelming credentials. Other organizations, with non-political checks and balances in place, seeking excellence, would recognize this error and repair it by seeking more candidates. Despite warnings and a delay of several months, city administrators chose to proceed with the same slate of candidates.

Your choice to not find qualified candidates undermines the COCL’s eventual authority and limits their possible effectiveness – regardless of ability. By maintaining a flawed process, city administrators did a disservice to the candidates, the community, police officers and people with mental illness.

Predictably, each candidate’s presentation was disappointing.  There were different reasons, but all were disappointing, and at the summation of the presentation I was the only representative who objected to all of the candidates.

After further consideration and review of comments, and after conversations among candidates and supporters of the Mental Health Association of Portland, I maintain and repeat my objection. None of the candidates before us is the right person to receive the contract and serve as COCL.

One reason for my objection is this: Each candidate trivialized the experiences and suffering of people with mental illness harmed by police.  Their mistake was comparing their personal experiences with mental illness with those of persons who have been humiliated, beaten, tased or killed by police officers. I appreciate the intention to build trust and association. However intentions and impact are not the same.  Unless you or your loved ones have been humiliated, beaten, tased or killed by police officers, you are unable to grasp the level of anxiety and fear that many people with mental health challenges experience when we encounter a police officer.

I’ll paraphrase the comment of many presidents of the Portland Police Association, well accepted as fact in this room, “If you haven’t walked in our shoes, you don’t know our experience, you can’t judge us, you can’t know us.”

We are in the first weeks of a five-year settlement and already there are substantial problems with both the process and the people.

The flaws, failures and incompetence remain extensive. The Settlement Agreement in DOJ v City of Portland is a synthesis of no hope, no help.  And no part of the settlement removes dangerous police officers who have killed our friends and family.

The mayor’s office has refused to comply with the written agreement by defining item #89 – the drop-in/drop-off center – as “aspirational.” The city has no intention to comply. No wonder you want to stay out of Judge Simon’s court.

The Portland Police Bureau hired Mary-Claire Buckley who has a substantiated abuse complaint from her previous job for verbally abusing a person with mental illness in her previous job. The Portland Police Bureau placed Ms. Buckley in a position of authority during the settlement process. This demonstrates just how out of touch the police department is with people with mental health challenges.

Now, the city attorney, seven weeks after the court ruled, intends to appeal an important part of the judge’s order. Her only ally, outside City Hall, is the police union.

Shortsighted, insulting actions like these offend the community, and harm the credibility and leadership of this Council, of police officers in the field, of anyone who is determined to make things better.

Beckie Child, MSW
Person with lived mental health experience
Mental Health Advocate
Adviser to the Mental Health Association of Portland