Testimony to fairness of settlement of United States of America v. City of Portland

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Via email to: Mary_Austad@ord.uscourts.gov
The Honorable Michael H. Simon
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
1327 United States Courthouse
1000 Southwest Third Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97204-2944

United States of America v. City of Portland, case number 12-CV-02265

Dear Judge Simon:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony concerning the fairness hearings for United States of America v. City of Portland.

The Mental Health Association of Portland was described by The Oregonian as the state’s “foremost independent advocate for persons with mental illness and addiction.”

Since 2005, our primary endeavor has been highlighting police interaction with persons in mental health crisis. Today, we are still at the forefront of advocacy in this issue, both locally and nationwide.

As part of our work in this area, we have compiled records on deaths caused by Portland-area police; as of this writing we have documented over 274 such incidents.  We can share our records with you.

Our website is the largest public mental health website in the world. We have daily contact with over 10,000 supporters.

The Mental Health Association of Portland is a founding member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, and a signatory to the Coalition’s intervention in the case at hand.  In addition, we support the guidelines for conducting the fairness hearing submitted January 14 by Portland Copwatch.

As an organization that has focused for many years on mental health, and particularly its intersection with law enforcement, here, briefly, is some of what we’ve learned.

Persons with active mental illness are the most discriminated against persons, anywhere in the world, at any time in history. Public services for these people in our city, county, state, nation and world are terrible. They are the persons routinely harmed by public institutions and those employed by them. They die decades earlier than average. They are overrepresented in prisons, jails, emergency rooms, in poverty, unemployment and homelessness. And they are the ones, almost exclusively, killed by cops.


  • The state of Oregon spent $377.4 million on mental health services in 2011, up 23% from the prior budget (one of the largest increases in the nation).  Housing one patient, for one day, at the Oregon State Hospital costs taxpayers $1,000.
  • The most expensive and least effective way to mitigate mental and addiction health problems is the law. The least expensive and most effective way is to provide effective and worthwhile treatment on demand.
  • The Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Illness of 2009 estimates 2.2% of the population has a severe and persistent mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia. That number in Oregon would be 88,000 persons. The same report says one in five people has a diagnosable mental disorder during the course of a year. In Oregon, that would be approximately 880,000 persons.
  • The number of persons served by the state mental health system in 2007 was 109,758. In 2010, it was 105,820.  This not include persons in addiction services, private pay service, some parole services, veterans, jail, or prison (more than 60,000). Richard Harris wrote in 2009, while serving as the director of state mental health services in Oregon, “Less than half of Oregonians who need mental health treatment, get treatment.”
  • The state’s projected loss in Medicaid match funding for 2012 came to $156,000,000.  State officials expect that by 2014, care coordinating organizations will more effectively manage less money while serving more people.
  • Oregon medical and treatment professionals know how to treat mental health and addictions problems; that is, they can achieve substantial reduction and management of symptoms.  But full funding has never been available.
  • Reducing the availability of addiction and mental health public treatment directly increases costs in emergency rooms.  Costs also go up for police, jails, courts, prisons, and parole. The unavailability of treatment increases domestic violence and child abuse; person-to-person and property crimes; unemployment; bankruptcies; school dropouts; auto and gun accidents; homelessness; and hunger.
  • Mental health policy and reform have been dominated by professionals and government-funded agencies, not patients, nor their friends and family members, who have until the past five years been systematically excluded from public discourse.
  • There are no cures for mental illness or addiction, and none in the foreseeable future.  There are treatments that can work very well, but science has not identified a cause or a cure for any mental illness. Given that mental health and mental illness are inextricably entwined with experience, environment, upbringing, genetic and chemical makeup, body, brain, inborn resilience, socioeconomic status, culture, belief, and pure chance — the very things that make us human — it may be the wrong question to ask.

Judge Simon, in light of the conclusions put forth in the Department of Justice investigation of the Portland Police Bureau, and the above facts, we assert fairness requires you to collect testimony from the persons who have been, or who are likely to be, harmed by police: persons in mental health crisis themselves.

Testimony should include the individuals listed in United States of America v. City of Portland. It should also include persons who are actively ill and not receiving treatment, those who are estranged from the healthcare system, people who are chronically homeless, persons for whom there is no culturally competent treatment available, and people who are currently experiencing a crisis.

We understand you may be offered opportunities to talk with persons who self-identify as having a mental illness, but have not and may not ever experience a crisis that would bring them in contact with police.  Don’t substitute.  Having a diagnosis of mental illness, in and of itself, says nothing about whether they are in mental health crisis. It’s important you balance the abundant voluntary testimony proffered by self-appointed experts with equal testimony from persons without incentive or capacity to contact you through formal means.

Fairness dictates that you reach out.

We would like to add some suggestions to the list provided by Portland Copwatch, in order to facilitate meeting with these people.

Reasonable accommodations will be necessary to survey these individuals and collect their testimony.  This will include involving skilled outreach workers and streetwise psychiatric social workers, clergy, family members, and persons with lived experience of mental illness, including acute symptoms leading to crisis.

Testimony should be collected firsthand, in a place where the testifier is comfortable, at a time of their choosing.

Here is a list of local experts available to provide access to testimony by persons in mental health crisis (not the testimony itself). [list redacted – included a housing program manager, a police officer, and two black belt social workers].

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on this important case.  If [we] can be of further service, please get in touch.

Click the “Fairness Hearing testimony” tag, below, for more testimony