Advocates seek city and federal agreement first
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Advocates are urging the Portland Police Bureau to wait until U.S. Department of Justice and the community has reached an agreement on police use of force before finalizing new policy changes that Police Chief announced Mike Reese last week.
The city and the Department of Justice have been in negotiations to deal with last month’s federal report findings that Portland Police Bureau has a “pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness.”
Before any agreement was reached, Police Chief Mike Reese announced policy changes to improve how police officers deal with Portland’s mentally ill.
The policy changes included the re-implementation of a Crisis Intervention Team made up of volunteer and specialized patrol officers who would be available to dispatch on mental-health related calls. The bureau had a similar team in the past, but dropped it in 2007 to fully train all officers on the subject.
According to Reese, all officers would continue be trained on Crisis Intervention with the team in place.
Chief Reese also announced changes to three directives involving use of force: Taser use, application of force, and use of deadly force.
The police bureau posted the policies online and asked for community feedback by Friday, November 2, 2012.
Advocates responded, including Portland Copwatch, a grassroots group promoting police accountability through citizen action.
In comments e-mailed to Chief Reese, Portland Copwatch’s Dan Handelman first urged the bureau not to finalize the new policy changes “until the community and the DOJ have decided that the plans will do something to eliminate the pattern and practice of excessive force that was found”.
Handelman critiqued that when under scrutiny in the past, the bureau has made minor changes to policies while asking investigators to hold off until there is time to see how the new changes work.
“Such shenanigans are no longer to be tolerated,” wrote Handelman.
Portland Copwatch fears that implementing policy changes before an agreement is reached, might give federal courts the impression that there is no need for oversight, intervention, or further community involvement.
Before commenting on Chief Reese’s policy changes, Handelman expressed that the bureau make the directives easier for the public to understand by changing its confusing numerical language.
Advocates also wanted to see other directives previously brought to police attention, like the Medical Aid directive, addressed in the DOJ agreement.
Portland Copwatch said they support the idea of a hybrid Crisis Intervention Team model that includes all officers being trained but also specific skilled members apart of an on-call team.
However, advocates emphasized that the existence of such team should not relieve members of their responsibility to de-escalate and use their own training to resolve situations.
Nobody wants to see a repeat death of Jose Mejia Poot, said Handelman.
Poot was a Mexican day laborer shot at a mental health hospital in 2001 when a second set of officers arrived to the scene after the first set, which included a CIT-trained officer, had gone off duty.
Copwatch’s Handelman went on to express concerns on the Portland Police bureau’s Force, Deadly Use of Force and Taser policies, with specific comments on sections like policy, constitutional and bureau standards, procedures, duties, and many other details.
Police Public Information Officer Pete Simpson responded by saying, “At this point [the policy changes] are drafts that have been posted to solicit feedback.”
“No timeline has been established on adopting them,” said Simpson. “And the DOJ agreement is one factor that will be considered in the eventual adoption of policy changes.”
To read and comment on the Police bureau’s policy changes, go to http://www.portlandonline.com/police/index.cfm?c=59757.
Portland Copwatch’s comments are public and should be available soon online.