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What Happened to James Chasse: 2007-01-28

Friday, February 2, 2007

Portland Police Revise Suspect Transport Policy


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.

Ex-chief dares to tell the truth

from The Oregonian

Mayor Tom Potter is a strong advocate for freedom of speech, and lately, he's needed a little of that advocacy for himself. Some officers want him to shut up and salute.

When he opens his mouth about the Portland Police Bureau, apparently, he's just supposed to smile and say something nice. Instead, Potter has a tendency to speak his mind. Recently, in fact, it was a bit unusual during his State of the City address when the mayor highlighted the death of James Philip Chasse Jr. in police custody. In the midst of the usual litany of mayoral boasting, Potter admitted the death of this mentally ill man has shaken our community "in profound ways that cannot and will not be ignored."

Beginning this month, every Portland police officer will start receiving crisis intervention training, Potter announced. And, he said, "I want the Chasse family to know --and our community to know --that real change is happening."

Because Chasse was mentally ill, Potter also used the moment to push for changes in the mental health care system. A committee Potter co-sponsored with state Sens. Avel Gordly and Ben Westlund, and Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler, has recommended hiring more crisis specialists and opening an around-the-clock crisis center.

The improvements involve a $6 million price tag, though. There's not much chance they'll ever be funded, unless the mayor pipes up and acknowledges we have a problem. But the mere mention of Chasse's death during the State of the City outraged some police officers --so much so that Robert King, president of the police union, sent the mayor a stern rebuke.

Maybe someone needs to point out that the improvements Potter is pushing, in addition to helping the community, would help police officers do their jobs. The crisis workers would work with, as Potter said, "officers on the street."

It's true that Potter is quicker and more apt to criticize police than some previous mayors have been. But even more important, when Potter makes a criticism, it stings. It comes from a former police chief --someone presumed to know what he's talking about.

Potter should ignore the rebukes and keep speaking out. Some officers may be confused by what they regard as a former chief's disloyalty, but in urging changes, Potter is upholding the ideal of community policing and pursuing the Portland Police Bureau's best interests.

And, anyway, last we heard, Potter was Portland's mayor, not its Protector and Praiser-in-Chief of police.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Potter voices pride in police, will push if necessary

from The Oregonian, by Ryan Frank

One day after he got a nasty note from Portland's police union president, Mayor Tom Potter responded Wednesday to rebut claims that he doesn't support rank-and-file officers.

Union President Robert King, typically known for a tempered approach, called out Potter in a terse letter Tuesday as highlighting controversy while ignoring officers' work to successfully reduce crime.

"Contrary to Robert's statements," wrote Potter, a former police chief, "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."

Yet, Potter said, he'll stick by his approach to publicly call on officers for changes when he sees a problem.

The two most public examples that caught King's attention: a Potter-appointed committee to study racial profiling and the mayor's heartburn over the death of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old schizophrenic, in police custody.

"I don't think we can avoid these kinds of discussions," Potter said in an interview Wednesday. "We need to confront them directly."

Potter and King have known each other since the union leader was a child. But Potter has had a troubled run since street officers were skeptical of him as chief, and the union endorsed his opponent in the 2004 mayoral campaign. King and Potter have had a few run-ins since Potter took office, including last year when Potter said police stops of a Somali American "smacked of racism."

Potter says he's gotten along with King just fine. They have started sharing breakfast at the Bijou Cafe downtown.

King's letter Tuesday marked the first such strong message in writing from the union leader. King, who couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday, has said he's facing pressure from his union to take a stand against the mayor.

His letter followed a column in the January issue of the Rap Sheet, the police union's monthly paper, headlined "Stand up, Tom Potter," by Drugs and Vice Division Officer Daryl Turner.

"It seems like Mayor Potter wants to put our backs against the wall until we say uncle, but that's not going to happen," Turner wrote. "Tom Potter spent over two decades as a cop, yet he seems like a stranger to us."

In his letter, King complained that Potter highlighted Chasse's death in his State of the City speech. "Instead of providing leadership to broaden people's understanding of what we do, you followed the lead of the media and their single-minded focus on controversy," King wrote.

Potter wrote in his letter, which was posted on his Web site, that he talked about the Chasse case because "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."

King complained that Potter also "tried and convicted the police of racial profiling."

When asked if he thinks racial profiling exists, Potter said:

"Yes. . . . It's a problem because the community believes it's a problem. It's a problem because of the accumulated information we have developed indicating that something is going on. And whatever that something is needs to be fixed."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Police push to polygraph hires

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

Anyone interested in wearing a police badge in Oregon could soon be asked to sit through a lie-detector test and face questions like these:

Have you used drugs? Have you stolen from an employer? Have you committed a felony? Did you answer honestly about why you left your last job?

Oregon police chiefs are pushing to change state law this year to allow law enforcement agencies to administer polygraph tests to help screen out bad apples during hiring.

Portland Chief Rosie Sizer and Mayor Tom Potter, a former city police chief, are strong proponents of the change, and the city of Portland helped draft legislation. But the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon pledges to fight it.

Oregon has long forbidden the practice, while the states that border it --Washington, California and Idaho --allow it in police hiring. Washington, in fact, now mandates that all law enforcement agencies use the test for hiring.

The proposed legislation would carve out an exception to Oregon's law that now makes it an "unlawful employment practice" for any employer to subject, directly or indirectly, any employee or prospective employee to a polygraph.

The exception would apply to public safety officers, allowing a polygraph test to be used only for pre-employment screening. Failing the polygraph test could not be the sole basis for refusing or denying employment.

The bill being drafted by the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police wouldn't go as far as Washington state, which in 2005 mandated that all police or reserve officers pass a polygraph test before being certified as an officer.

"It's not so much that people take the polygraph and are found to be lying. That's a very rare occurrence," said Don Pierce, a former chief from Bellingham, Wash., and Boise who now is executive director of Washington's Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. "When people are sitting facing the polygraph they tell the truth, so we save a lot of time in terms of discovering behaviors that are disqualifying."

The ACLU contends the polygraph is a faulty test.

"Oregon has long prohibited their use in employment because lie detectors are inherently unreliable," said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon ACLU.

"There are people who fail lie detector tests who are innocent, and there are people who are guilty that pass them," Fidanque said. "It's a bad idea. There's no substitute for an employer doing their homework and checking the references. If that can be taken care of in the private sector, I don't see why it can't occur in the public sector."

Under Oregon's proposal, law enforcement agencies would have the option of using the polygraph.

Portland Officer Kurt Nelson, a former background investigator, said he's concerned that agencies will use the polygraph exam to short-circuit an in-depth background review. "I don't think it's a panacea for whatever they're trying to suggest it's going to cure," Nelson said.

Portland does extensive background checks on police applicants, but Chief Sizer expects some applicants to shy away from filling out applications if the polygraph test becomes part of the hiring process. "What we think it will do is speed up our background process because you get more information upfront," she said.

Portland Assistant Chief Brian Martinek knows what it's like to sit on both sides of a polygraph test, having sat for a polygraph when he was hired as a deputy chief in Vancouver.

"I had to do it, and it's no fun. They're very stressful, whether you're trying to hide something or not," Martinek said. "But to not have it is a mistake. The fact is we have people who pass the backgrounds now who shouldn't."

Portland's Mental Health/Public Safety Panel, set up by the mayor in November after the death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old schizophrenic, recently recommended the use of the lie detector tests for screening police recruits.

Potter said he embraces anything to improve how police respond to people with mental illness, which is becoming an increasingly frequent encounter for officers. Potter said polygraph tests may help pinpoint concerns that remain hidden in the regular application process, and "will be helpful to screen people out who may not be able to handle the stress on the street or anywhere else."

Some police executives worry that the polygraphs might make it even more difficult to find qualified candidates at a time when agencies struggle to fill vacancies.

Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, said the union is still reviewing the issue.

Oregon Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, already submitted a similar bill on behalf of Medford's former police chief, Ray Shipley. Shipley came from California and recounted to Esquivel how one officer in his old department was not hired because a polygraph test turned up that he'd shoplifted while on duty at his previous policing job.

"Law enforcement people have to be the icon of your community, and you want people who are very ethically sound and do the right thing and don't commit crimes," Esquivel said.

Chief Robert M. Lehner took over the helm of the Eugene Police Department three years ago as two Eugene officers were indicted and sent to prison for their parts in a sex scandal. Both officers sexually assaulted multiple women over a period of years, preying on women with drug and alcohol problems and silencing them with the threat of arrest. Investigations showed they had criminal histories, including burglary, drug and theft offenses, before they were hired, Lehner said.

Outside consultants reviewed Eugene's hiring, training and recruitment processes when Lehner took over. They noted that Oregon was one of the few states that prohibited polygraphs for police applicants, and they recommended changing the law.

David Corey, a police psychologist who does psychological screening and fitness-for-duty exams for many police agencies in the Portland area and Washington state, says polygraph tests help detect deception, spur "truth-telling" by applicants, and can be a useful tool when a background investigator finds discrepancies in an applicant's personal history.

Corey cited a study by Johnson-Roberts Associates, of Oakland, Calif., which publishes a life history questionnaire for prospective public safety employees. In states where police applicants are administered a pre-job polygraph, applicants will disclose past drug use more often than applicants in states where polygraphs are prohibited, the study found.

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto favors the polygraph, saying he was concerned that psychological exams haven't been successful in catching sexual deviancies.

"Every tool available to us at the front end of the career to find the best applicants, we owe the public," he said. "I don't know how you could argue against it."