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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mayoral Candidates Respond to Feds' Report on Cops' Excessive Force

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 4:57 PM

To a large degree, when asked about their thoughts on police accountability, mayoral candidates Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales have sounded the right notes about the Portland Police Bureau's ongoing work to improve the way it deals with Portlanders suffering from mental illness (as in: no longer shooting, punching, or Tasering them) while deferring to what had been an ongoing federal investigation when pressed on specifics.

And, well... the feds finally issued their findings today, declaring that, yes, our cops use excessive force often enough that it violates constitutional protections—while also ordering up a series of supervisory, training, and policy changes that the city has all but accepted.

Not long after, Smith, and then Hales, submitted lengthy statements that welcomed the findings. Neither is completely detailed, but they're worth reading. How each candidate approaches these reforms should be an important barometer for deciding who'll be best on police accountability issues. Because even though the plan for fixing the police bureau will be signed by our current mayor, it's the next mayor (and whoever that mayor chooses as police chief, if either decides to usher Mike Reese into retirement) who'll actually be in charge of making sure those fixes get done.

Read Hales' statement before the cut, and Smith's after. And come to our Mayoral Inquisition this Tuesday for more on this subject.

Excessive use of force is not acceptable. Ever. Police officers are not mental health providers and should not be the first line of defense for mental health related crises. We should be clear that the failure of the legislature of adequately fund mental health is a contributing cause to this problem. We need more wrap around services to support our mentally ill population.

Today's report underscores that we need to focus our police bureau on true community policing - prevention, relationship building in neighborhoods, and training in de-escalation. When a community knows the officers assigned to their neighborhood by name and sees them on a regular basis, it will help to make the use of force the exception, not the standard.

As Mayor I will return our city to true community policing practices and I will work with all partners at the local level to provide more services for our mentally ill citizens. I will lobby Salem for increased mental health services funding for our local providers and CCOs as well as advocate for greater Medicaid match. And I will work to increase police accountability, including ending the “48 hour rule” that prevents getting the facts from police officers involved in brutality or shootings until two days after the incident.

And here's Smith's:

For years, our city has been wrestling with how to do public safety smarter as resources shrink and we ask our public servants to do more with less. Today the Justice Department publicly shared its finding that the Portland Police Bureau engaged in “a pattern or practice” of excessive use of force, in cases involving people with mental illness.

I have had preliminary conversations with law enforcement officials and am still working through the 42-page report. We will take the report in the serious manner it was drafted. The Department of Justice deserves commendation for a thorough and thoughtful review, for recognizing that systemic problems require systemic solutions, for acknowledging the tremendously hard job and important work of our men and women in the police force, and for offering that their "findings take place in the backdrop of a mental health infrastructure that has a number of key deficiencies [and] insufficient options for adequate community based mental health services".

I applaud the City and Chief Reese for their focus on swift action to address the recommendations. I am encouraged by the action items in the Statement of Intent, with its renewed focus on root causes and community-oriented public safety. Becoming a national model for mental health crisis response is a worthy, ambitious, and achievable goal.

With the dissolution of the mental health safety net, new realities require us to better treat and tend to our people with mental illness. The findings also offer us an opportunity to bring the Portland Police Bureau to the leading edge of community-oriented public safety:

To start, we will expand our mobile crisis units so that they can in fact respond to crisis calls, and work with the county to improve crisis options.

We will work to bring the bureau to the cutting edge of training and response, and we have no time to waste. We must use the opportunity of the new training center to improve training practices.

As the DOJ recognized, we also clearly must build greater trust between police and the community, particularly our communities of color.

We’ll work to put more eyes on the street so officers can better interact with the communities they serve.
We also need to acknowledge that implementing these recommendations will take real financial investment, which means the need for partnerships (one example being explored is the potential for more reimbursement through mental health partners like Cascadia) and facing tough choices with respect to revenue and services.

In our administration, we will work to address our public safety problems early, constantly, and at the root causes so the Department of Justice does not need to step in again. We need to bring a range of voices around the table with an eye toward solving problems.

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