Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman joined with City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and NAMI Multnomah advocate Dan Moore this afternoon to launch a report called Recommended Action Items Regarding the Intersection of the Police and the Mental Health System in Portland.
The report has several noble recommendations, including holding events where police and people with mental illness can interact in non-confrontational settings; revitalizing a crisis intervention advisory council; improving ongoing communications with mental health professionals; and partnering mental health workers and police officers in tandem service.
But the news comes as the police bureau is overspending its budget by $5million, and it turned out, at the press conference, that the Chief has only got the budget to try partnering a worker from Project Respond with an officer in just one police car.
I spoke with Project Respond workers before the press conference, and they say that they can't help the people they're seeing who are on their way into crisis. So why should we think that partnering just one more Project Respond worker with just one cop—as a trial—is going to improve matters? Where's the broader effort to get money to prevent people going into crisis?
"That's part of our strategy too," said Police Commissioner Saltzman. "We need to galvanize as a city to advocate for refunding of programs that have been de-funded at the Federal and state level over the last decades. We want to be going down there to the State Capitol on Mental Health Day, ideally we'd like to have the Portland Police Association down there with us, too, in partnership on these issues."
The Mental Health Association of Portland issued its response to the report this morning, saying in a statement that: "The proposed recommendations from Police Chief Sizer and Police Commissioner Saltzman lack dedicated funding, a time-line for implementation, responsible parties, and accountability benchmarks. Without these defining qualities, the proposal is bureaucratic smoke which obscures political weakness."
I put that quote to Saltzman.
"I think we're looking at things differently, we're identifying some funding, and we have some additional packages in the budget process," he said. "I'm happy, if they want to suggest what the benchmarks would be, to listen to that. We're trying to minimize conflicts in the process, so if somebody has an idea for what the benchmarks should be, then I'm open to listening to those."
MHAP said it wouldn't participate in meetings for the report, because they took place behind closed doors. "Saltzman, Fritz and Sizer developed the proposed recommendations in a vacuum, behind closed doors, with selected friendly conversations," wrote MHAP. "Often with agencies and individuals who seek favors. The closed-door decision-making shows the meek political softness of those who are making the proposal."
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