Ore. police still struggling to track mental health crisis calls

The Police Bureau has provided training for 85 officers who are considered part of an 'Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team'


By Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland police – under a federal court order to improve how they deal with mental health crisis calls — still don't have a good handle on how often officers encounter people with mental illness, outside monitors say.

The Police Bureau has provided "well-executed" training for 85 officers who are considered part of an "Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team," according to the new monitoring report. That means they've received more than the standard 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

But it's impossible to tell if the number of specially trained officers meets demand because the bureau hasn't adequately tracked its number of mental health-related crisis calls, the report said.

The bureau is working to require officers to note on their mobile computer screens if a call involves someone with mental illness. That should help better capture the data, the monitoring team suggested.

In their latest report, the city-hired Chicago academics Dennis Rosenbaum and Amy Watson examined how police supervisors review officers' use of force, bureau problems tracking mental health-related emergency calls, officer training and the controversial 48-hour rule that allows officers who use deadly force to wait two days before they're interviewed by a detective.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation found in 2012 that Portland police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness. The negotiated settlement, approved by a federal judge in 2014, calls for changes to Portland policies, training and oversight.

The latest report by Rosenbaum and Watson reviews police practices from July through December 2015. Among its other findings:

— The bureau has created a checklist for supervisors to conduct after-action reviews when officers use force, but doesn't require supervisors to follow it - but should, the report says.

"While PPB argues that having to document their use of the checklist is 'redundant,' we maintain that not requiring such documentation negates the purpose,'' the report says.

Ensuring supervisors follow the checklist "encourages supervisors to do a better job of reviewing incidents by the mere fact that they are required to pay greater attention to factors that they may have paid little attention to in the past,'' it says.

— Police instructors should spend more time training officers how to respond to high-frequency routine encounters instead of spending most of the training on "extreme, high-risk circumstances,'' which are more rare. The report also recommends that the bureau consider contracting with outside experts to provide some of the training.

—  The monitoring team had wanted to survey people with mental illness who have had encounters with Portland police, but the bureau has been reluctant to help with the survey.

"PPB expressed concern that a survey tailored to people/consumers of mental health services who've had contact with police would trigger trauma symptoms and have negative repercussions,'' the report says.

Rosenbaum and his team said there's no evidence that supports the bureau's concerns, and they're still pushing to get such a survey done.

— The bureau should provide refresher crisis intervention training for officers, at least every three years.

"We have identified several examples where PPB officers did not utilize the basic CI (crisis intervention) skills when interacting with persons known to be experiencing a mental health crisis,'' the report said. "These incidents underscore the need for a substantial refresher.''

— In only one of four officer-involved shootings in 2015 was an officer who used deadly force interviewed two days after the shooting. In two cases, the officer was interviewed three days later. In the fourth case, the officer was interviewed four days later.

"We believe that not requiring officers to provide a statement within the first 48 hours of an officer-involved shooting and not requiring officers to fill out the force data collection report can have serious implications for community trust,'' the report says.

In the four police shootings, the officers involved were asked to provide an on-scene walk-through and interview with detectives.

"In each of the cases, the response was fairly uniform: 'On the advice of my attorney, I decline,'" the report says.

"We recognize police officers have Fifth Amendment rights afforded to all citizens and should not be criticized for asserting that right,'' the report says. "In the context of community trust, however, we suggest PPB encourage the use of voluntary public safety statements when possible, with the understanding that a full interview will occur later.''

Copyright 2016 The Oregonian

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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