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What Happened to James Chasse: 2007-01-07

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."

Sunday, January 7, 2007

An open letter to the men and women of the Portland Police Bureau

from Portland Online, press release

On Tuesday (1/30), I (Tom Potter) received a letter from Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association. He expressed a number of very serious concerns. I believe it is important that the members of the Portland Police Bureau hear answers from me directly about the issues Robert raises, and that I share our conversation with our community.

January 31, 2007

Dear Portland Police Bureau Members:

On January 30, 2007, I received a letter from Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association. He told me that in my State of the City speech a few weeks ago, I neglected to thank the men and women of the Portland Police Bureau for your tireless work on behalf of Portlanders. He also said I was eroding the community’s trust in the police by focusing on a single tragedy - James Chasse’s death - and, by acknowledging the need to address community concerns over racial profiling.

I have a different perspective, and I would like to share that perspective with you.

First, I want you to know that I value each of you for both the everyday things you do to protect our community, and for the exceptional acts of valor you are called on to perform. I often remind the community of the Portland Police Bureau’s accomplishments, and did so again at the State of the City. I spoke of our crime rate dropping, and increased community satisfaction with Police services. And I introduced Robert to the crowd.

But I also spoke of the need for additional mental health resources and training for all police officers, to reduce and hopefully eliminate such tragedies as James Chasse’s death. It’s not news to you that the mental health system has deteriorated over time, and as a result basic mental health services, and even society’s “safety nets,” have been greatly eroded. The problems we face ultimately require system-wide solutions, and we are working to make those happen.

As an example, the Triage Center used by Portland Police to help people with mental illnesses closed in 2001, leaving police with fewer choices to provide help. As a result, too often people with mental illness are left to wander Portland ’s streets. The vast majority of these folks at some point will receive help without incident from a member of the Portland Police. But on occasion, these contacts require the use of force. In September, one ended tragically.

My point in discussing this incident during my speech was that I want Portlanders to know the Police Bureau and City have learned from James Chasse’s death, and are doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies from recurring. I believe effective police agencies have strong, positive relationships with community members, relationships built on mutual trust and respect. When issues arise that interfere with building those relationships, the problem must be resolved in order to move community/police collaboration forward. Talking about the problem openly is an important first step in doing that.

When it comes to racial profiling, both the community and police feel they are being treated unfairly. How do we solve this issue if both groups don’t come together to understand the issue, and then work to fix it?

I think it would be a serious error on anybody’s part to suggest that all Portland Police Officers engage in racial profiling, or conversely, to suggest that no racial profiling occurs in Portland. There is a growing body of information – including the Racial Profiling Report compiled by the Portland Police Bureau – that points to a problem, regardless of what you call it. That problem needs to be dealt with openly and honestly. Neither side can fix it by themselves. It can only be fixed by the community and the police learning from each other and working together.

Contrary to Robert’s statements, I AM proud of the members of the Portland Police Bureau. I know how hard you work, and the sacrifices you make to protect our city. However, I do agree with Robert King when he said, “Out of the 400,000 interactions the police have in the community each year, there are bound to be a few that either the police or the community or both wish were handled differently. Learning from these situations is an important part of moving forward.”

As the Commissioner of Police, I will continue to speak out on issues that affect the wellbeing of our community and police members alike. I believe the two groups are inextricably linked together, and we can only be successful when both are successful. I believe in you and your commitment to making Portland the safest city in America.

Thank you and stay safe,

Tom's signature

Tom Potter