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What Happened to James Chasse: Portland Police Revise Suspect Transport Policy

Friday, February 2, 2007

Portland Police Revise Suspect Transport Policy

from OPB.com

Portland Police officers are no longer allowed to transport ill or injured suspects in their patrol cars -- unless cleared to do so by an emergency medical responder. The new policy, crafted in response to the death of James Chasse last fall, was discussed Tuesday at a Police Bureau forum. Police Chief Rosie Sizer says the change clarifies a confusing situation. But as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, some cops are rolling their eyes as another high-profile case prompts yet another change in policy.

Chasse died last fall after a particularly forceful arrest. He suffered multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung. But EMTs found his vital signs were normal, so he was taken to jail. There, a nurse saw him experience a seizure and told police he couldn't be committed to jail. Chasse died on route to the hospital.

Assistant Chief Lynae Berg says the new policy makes it clear that medical staff, not officers, now decide whether an injured suspect will be jailed or hospitalized.

Lynae Berg: "Medical decisions are going to be made by the people most appropriate to make those decisions. So it'll be the on scene paramedics, and or, if we transport to jail, the nursing staff who will do an additional assessment and make a decision as to whether or not they have the capacity at booking to provide the care that they believe the individual needs."

Berg says the Chasse case highlighted gaps in police policy -- specifically a clear, concise conversation between police and EMTs about the medical health of a suspect. She says such conversations have always happened, but the new policy clarifies the situation.

As the idea was explained in the Chief's Forum, many people nodded their heads in agreement and made suggestions. But not neighborhood activist Richard Brown.

Richard Brown: "Every time something happens, we come up with a new training."

Brown has been part of the forum for 15 years and says each time there's a high profile case, the bureau unveils new training or a new policy. He thinks beat cops are being overwhelmed and he says what they really need is an attitude adjustment.

Richard Brown: "The basis for all training should be: How do we deal with people? If we put our mother's and father's face on people we have contact with as police, that we may begin to change the perception that police have."

Police officers themselves are also not overjoyed by the idea of yet another new policy. But union rep, Robert King, says they'll give it a try.

Robert King: "If it brings a value, and we'll see over time, then I think it'll be positive. And if not, then it's not unlike what we routinely see in cases like this."

Kristian Foden-Vencil: "Is there a feeling of, 'Oh another policy,' and then a big roll of the eyes?"

Robert King: "You know, there are a lot of policies that are created after high-profile controversial incidents. So for the officer working on the street, who's going out there, making contact with people, people who are mentally ill, people that are high or drunk, or people that are engaged in a variety of criminal behaviors, you know their job hasn't meaningfully changed."

Portland Police Brass understand that continual policy changes are difficult for rank and file officers to adjust to. But Commander Rosie Sizer, says when they have an incident that reveals a problem, such as the James Chasse case, it has to be addressed.

Rosie Sizer: "Police officers exercise good judgment every day on the street. But there are some instances where I think you need policy to buttress good decision making. And I think this is one of them."

The new policy has been in place for about three weeks now. It's not clear yet if EMTs are going to be called out more often as a result. But police say if that happens, it's okay, because it can only help ensure that people in custody get the medical attention they need.

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