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What Happened to James Chasse: Portland shares ideas to protect mentally ill

Monday, January 8, 2007

Portland shares ideas to protect mentally ill

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

Two months ago, Mayor Tom Potter assembled a group of mental health and public safety leaders to identify ways to improve services to the mentally ill in the wake of James P. Chasse Jr.'s death in police custody.

Now the group has come up with 14 projects it deems critical to help reduce police run-ins with people who suffer mental illness.

For a total of at least $6 million, the group suggests expanding health care and housing for people with mental illness; hiring more Project Respond mental health specialists to team up with police on the streets; opening a 16-bed crisis center that offers round-the-clock psychiatric and medical services; mandating crisis intervention training for all law enforcement; and supporting a change in state law that would allow polygraph testing to help screen out unfit police applicants.

The multimillion-dollar question: Who will pay?

"It is the obvious critical question that brought us to the table," said state Sen. Avel Gordly, I-Portland, a co-chairwoman of the mayor's Mental Health/Public Safety Panel. "This is what we must do, period. So, how will it be done?"

On Friday,Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County's newly elected chairman, praised the group's ideas and said he would work closely with his department heads, such as Joanne Fuller, who now runs the county's Department of Human Services, and Lillian Shirley, who directs the county's Health Department, to pinpoint which programs they should include in the coming year's budget.

"You've given me something solid to work with," Wheeler told the group.

Potter asked the panel to identify the most urgent recommendations that should be acted on immediately.

"This is a big step," the mayor said. "These recommendations have come up in one form or another in the last several years. But now we have to move on them. This really has to be a clarion call to the community. We have to recognize the consequences of not taking action."

Chasse, 42, who suffered from schizophrenia, died from broad-based blunt force trauma to his chest after police struggled to take him into custody in the Pearl District on Sept. 17. Police thought Chasse was possibly on drugs after they saw him shuffling on a street corner and then possibly urinating behind a tree. Once they approached him, police said, Chasse ran. Two Portland officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy chased after him and knocked him to the ground. During a struggle to handcuff him, Chasse suffered multiple rib fractures, some of which punctured his left lung.

Among the panel's ideas:

* Expand health care coverage for people with mental illness through legislative action.

* Have Central City Concern's Housing Rapid Response program work as a team with Project Respond mental health specialists and police officers to help people with mental illness make a smooth transition from the streets to long-term housing. Expand housing for 50 more people, and provide services to between 80 and 100 people. Annual cost, $610,473.

* Expand treatment programs for African Americans with mental illness, such as Multnomah County's Treatment Not Punishment Program, which provides intensive case management and mental health and addiction assessments. Estimated cost, $651,375.

* Create a 16-bed facility that provides 24-hour psychiatric and medical care. Projected startup cost is $1 million; annual operating expense, $2.9 million.

Fuller and Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito said this has been a county goal but funding has been elusive.

"We really really need the state to step up for this to happen," Fuller said.

Naito added, "We've been wanting this for years."

* Review police hiring and training programs.

* Mandate crisis intervention training for all law enforcement, and county corrections enforcement officers. For Portland Police Bureau alone, $500,000.

* Hire more Project Respond mental health specialists to partner with police. $290,000 annual cost.

* Endorse a change in state law to allow police to use polygraph tests on applicants for hiring. Oregon law prohibits polygraph testing for employment. In Washington and California, it's allowed for police. The Oregon Chiefs of Police Association will back a bill this legislative session, and Potter and Chief Rosie Sizer are in support.

* Endorse the attorney general's proposed "Use of Deadly Force" legislation, which would open grand jury proceedings on cases involving police use of force by recording them, and publicly releasing the transcripts.

Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk favors the proposal, but it remains controversial among other top prosecutors around the state. It died in the state House last session.

Schrunk favors releasing transcripts of grand jury proceedings, almost immediately, and creating statewide standards for grand jury hearings. "This can only make for a better operation, a better system and better treatment of citizens," Schrunk said.

* Enhance mental health screening for people in jail. Provide round-the-clock mental health nurses at Multnomah County Detention Center. $596,300 to cover salaries in fiscal 2008.

Doris Cameron-Minard,a past president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Oregon, whose son suffers from mental illness, told the panel that the true test of their efforts will be what action comes next.

"We've done sort of the easy part," Cameron-Minard said, "and now we're left with the hard part where so many other groups have gone and failed."

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