1 in 6 people has a common mental illness at some point in their life (Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2000).
About 1% of the population experience schizophrenia at some point in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
About 1% of the population experience manic depression at some point in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
1 in 200 people have experienced a psychotic illness in the last year (Singleton, Psychiatric Morbidity, 2000).
The average age of onset of psychotic symptoms is 22 (Department of Health, 2001)
Deprived areas and rural districts have the highest levels of mental health problems and suicides (ONS, 2001).
People from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds are 3-5 times more likely than others to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia. (Mental Health Foundation, 1999)
About 25% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will make a full recovery; about 60% of people will have fluctuating symptoms; about 10-15% of people experience long term incapacity (Mental Health Foundation, 1999).
35% of people with mental illness are unemployed but want to work (ONS, 2003), the highest want to work rate of any disability.
Only 1 in 4 employers said that they would knowingly employ someone with a history of mental illness (Manning et al, 1995).
Three quarters of employers say that it would be difficult or impossible to employ someone diagnosed with schizophrenia (DWP, 2003).
Less than 5% of people who kill a stranger have symptoms of mental illness (Department of Health, 2001).
People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence (Walsh, 2003).
More than 1 in 4 people with severe mental illness report being shunned when seeking help (Rethink, 2003).
30% of GPs’ time is spent with people with mental health problems (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (Maudsley Monograph, 2002).
44% of people with mental health problems report discrimination from general practioners, such as physical health problems not being taken seriously (Mental Health Foundation, 2002).
Almost 80% of carers for someone with a severe mental illness say that caring has had an impact on own their mental health (Rethink, 2003).
Almost 80% of carers for someone with a severe mental illness say that caring has had an impact on their own physical health (Rethink, 2003).
Only 48% of mental health professionals know about local policies on sharing information with carers (Rethink/IoP, 2006).
Mental health problems cost the economy untold billions per year through care costs, economic losses and premature death. (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2003).
21% of people with schizophrenia have a dual diagnosis (Cantwell, 2003).
Up to half of people dependent on alcohol have a mental health problem (Turning Point, 2003).
People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die 10 years younger due to physical health problems (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2000) and have double the average rate of heart disease (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2006) and five times the average rate of diabetes (Department of Health, 2004).
People with severe mental illness smoke twice as much as average, do half as much exercise and eat less fruit and vegetables than average (Running on empty report, 2005).
Alien Boy Update
Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse has signed with Circus Road Films for representation.
“Infuriating, tragic, heartbreaking and incendiary in equal measures... plays out like a horror film and leaves you absolutely breathless.”
~ AP Kryza, Willamette Week
The Lane County DA says the senate bills would only affect the most extreme criminal cases. However, typical civil commitments for non-Measure 11 offenders would still go from six months to two years. The hospital director could not release a patient who is cured or no longer dangerous without a judge’s say-so. And patients would have to serve their whole term of commitment in a secure psychiatric facility, which could mean no transitional living situations in the community. –Ed.
The wife and father of slain Eugene police officer Chris Kilcullen are pitching legislation that would make it more difficult in Oregon for people to leave secure state psychiatric hospitals after they’ve been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for crimes they’ve committed.
Senate Bills 421 and 426 were introduced for the 2013 legislative session by state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat, on behalf of Kristie and John Kilcullen, just as discussions about mental illness have become a key facet of the national debate about gun control.
Chris Kilcullen was fatally shot by Cheryl Kidd, a Springfield resident, during an attempted traffic stop in April 2011. She was subsequently deemed too mentally ill to stand trial.
In Oregon, there are approximately 100 defendants such as Kidd who lack the ability to understand the charges they face or to assist in their own defense. This essentially puts them outside the framework of the normal judicial system.
Under state law, these individuals can be hospitalized involuntarily for a maximum of three years if there is a chance their condition will improve and they still can face criminal charges.
Once that time is up, if a defendant is still unable to stand trial, the charges are dismissed — barring a future improvement in their mental health, in which case the charges can be refiled. However, if a defendant is deemed to pose a continued threat to themselves or others, the state can, in a separate process, seek a civil commitment order.
A commitment order lasts approximately six months, but can be continually renewed by a judge, should the individual still be considered dangerous.
The bills brought forward by the Kilcullen family would extend the length of a standard civil commitment order for people unable to stand trial for their crimes. The proposals wouldn’t have any effect on the three-year involuntary hospitalization period that some defendants, including Kidd, go through before being committed.
Under SB 421, a judge would be able to order a commitment period of up to five years for individuals charged with violent, Measure 11 crimes and whose mental conditions are unlikely to improve. The bill would prevent those patients from requesting a commitment hearing every six months. Instead, they could request a hearing two years into their commitment and again every two years after that.
If the law is passed, it could apply to Kidd, who has not yet entered the civil commitment process.
John Kilcullen said Tuesday that the family “didn’t want to have to go through that (commitment) process every six months,” given that mental health professionals don’t expect Kidd to improve in that kind of time frame.
“That would be difficult emotionally for us,” he said. “I have no forgiveness in my heart for her.”
Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said that, with the six-month commitment orders, crime victims’ families “are constantly involved” and the crime “never leaves their radar screen.”
“Those families deserve some respite at some point,” he said.
SB 426 would similarly extend the typical civil commitment orders for non-Measure 11 criminals from six months to two years.
Prozanski said that, compared with adjacent states, Oregon is “at the low end” with its standard six-month civil commitment period.
But advocates for individuals with mental illnesses are critical of the proposed legislation.
Bob Joondeph, the executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, says he believes elements of the bill would take away power from mental health professionals by giving them less leeway in how they handle their patients.
For example, under SB 421 — which deals with Measure 11 offenders who are unfit for trial — the director of a psychiatric institution would need to seek approval from a judge to release a patient who is considered either cured or no longer dangerous. Now, directors have the power to do that without court approval.
The bill also mandates that those same patients stay in a secure psychiatric hospital for the duration of their commitment. Joondeph said that would prevent patients from being transferred to community-based facilities or to be eligible for an early conditional release. Such steps can be a key factor in helping mentally ill patients rehabilitate and reintegrate into society, he added.
The Kilcullens’ proposals “present an all-or-nothing approach” to mental health care, he said.
Medical professionals “have to have the ability to get people to the right level care,” he added.
Gardner said people “shouldn’t infer any negative judgment about” medical professionals because of the proposals in the bills.
But, he added, “in some instances, health care professionals have a duty to be advocates for their patients and not necessarily for the overall public safety of the community.”
Going before a court before making release decisions adds a counterbalance to the system, he said.
Chris Bouneff, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon, argues that the proposals “create a prosecutorial tool to lock up someone who has mental health issues.”
Proponents are using “examples of extreme outliers” — in terms of the severity of a patient’s crime — to pass policies that “go against the tide” of nationwide efforts to place more individuals with mental illness in community facilities rather than big-box hospitals, he added.
Joondeph said that while he understood that law enforcement officials don’t want dangerous people released, state psychiatric hospitals should not be treated like “mental dens” or “prisons.”
“We need to move away from this stereotype that state hospitals have big walls and are for scary people,” he said.
Gardner countered that the proposal is intended only to make sure that “the few who would stay in hospital would be very dangerous.” The proposals are likely to be reworked and amended once the Legislature starts its work in earnest next month, he said.
But “the filter has to be broad enough to include all Measure 11 criminals,” Gardner said.
For John Kilcullen, a Eugene attorney and former Lane County sheriff’s deputy, the bills that were actually submitted “don’t go far enough.”
His preference, he said, would be for Kidd and others unfit to stand trial to be placed in secure psychiatric settings for at least the amount of time they would have faced in prison if convicted of their crimes. But there were “concerns about whether (such a law) would pass constitutional muster,” he said.
Kilcullen added that he is “confident” SB 421 and SB 426 will be approved by the Legislature.
“Recent events have brought the issue of mental illness into focus,” he said. The current systems “failed in the case of Ms. Kidd.”
Asked about his personal involvement in trying to pass laws that could directly affect his son’s killer, Kilcullen responded: “That’s how a lot of issues get pushed to the forefront” in the Legislature.
Recent mass shootings in Oregon and Connecticut have thrust mental health issues into the spotlight. Some Oregon lawmakers and mental health advocates hope there’s enough momentum to keep the conversation front and center. Unlike gun control, there is a consensus that appears to be emerging on funding mental health programs.
First, there was the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting. Then, just days later, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Some Oregon lawmakers responded with proposals to ban high capacity ammunition magazines and implement other gun control laws. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber says he’s open to a wide range of gun-related legislation.
“But even if you do all that, you really do need to invest in community mental health,” Kitzhaber says.
Programs that serve people on the local level, as opposed to centralized institutions. The Democratic governor has put more money into community mental health programs in his proposed budget. And he’s not the only one in Salem talking up the need for more mental health funding. Republicans may be wary of gun control legislation, but they have been talking up the same mental health programs Kitzhaber wants to fund. Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney is a long-time advocate of services for the mentally ill.
“It just doesn’t get to the forefront. It never gets to be in front of the parade. In fact sometimes it’s not even made part of the parade. It’s just not there,” Courtney says.
But Courtney says it’s clear that there’s a new level of interest in the issue.
“If because of this tragedy I can get to mental health, then why shouldn’t I do it? We gotta do this. We gotta do a lot better than we’re doing it. A lot more than we’re doing now,” Courtney says.
That’s welcome news to many who work on mental health issues. John Van Dreal helps assess the threat posed by troubled students in the Salem-Keizer School District.
“It’s good that we’re paying attention to this problem—a lack of mental health services and access to folks that really need it,” Van Dreal says.
But Van Dreal isn’t comfortable using the school and mall shootings as a way to kick-start the conversation about mental health.
“I think we’re quick to try to find a reason and blame that reason, and for some reason the folks with mental health issues end up getting the brunt of that blame when these things happen,” Van Dreal says.
Van Dreal says linking mass shootings to mental illness just perpetuates a stereotype. Take, for example, these comments from Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association. LaPierre was speaking at a press event held by the gun rights group in the days following the deaths of 26 children and teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day,” LaPierre said.
LaPierre called for a new national database of people with mental illness. That’s not on anyone’s agenda in Salem. And actually, some mental health advocates in Oregon say the state is already turning around decades of neglect on mental health services. Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon says he doesn’t think the new momentum over mental health funding will quickly dissipate.
“I think in Oregon it’s going to just add steam to a train that’s already moving down the track,” says Joondeph.
But Senate President Peter Courtney isn’t so confident. He sees this as perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle an issue he holds dear.
“It’s not going to happen unless we barge ahead. It’s time to barge,” Courtney says.
But Courtney says to truly transform Oregon’s mental health system would take hundreds of millions of dollars. And he’s not sure where the money would come from.
On Dec. 17, USDOJ filed suit against the City of Portland under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act alleging that city’s police have acted with excessive force against persons with (or perceived to have) mental illness. This follows the negotiation between the USDOJ and City of a Settlement Agreement. Terms of the Agreement include the filing of this action and its dismissal pending the performance of its other provisions.
The next day, the Portland Police Association moved to intervene as a matter of right under FRCP 24(a), or, in the alternative, to intervene permissively under FRCP 24(b).
This morning (the 21st) Judge Michael Simon held a Status Conference in his courtroom. He gave the USDOJ an extension of time to respond to the Motion to Intervene and set out how he plans to proceed with the case. Here’s what he said.
The Court’s role is to determine whether this settlement agreement is fair, just, and consistent with the public interest as determined by Congress. While class action settlements require a Fairness Hearing, a case of this sort does not. However, the Court has the discretion to hold a Fairness Hearing nonetheless. In this case, he believes a Fairness Hearing to be appropriate.
He said that everyone concerned will have an opportunity to be heard. He will allow anyone to submit written comments to the court, will hold hearings when the public can conveniently attend, even if that requires evenings or weekends, and is open to all suggestions about how the process can be as open as possible. He will also have a “clearinghouse” established so that anyone can review the written comments, motions, or other documents submitted.
He set the following deadlines:
Jan. 8: Any further motions to intervene will be considered “timely” if filed by this date.
Jan 22: Responsive memoranda to Motions to Intervene are due. Also, all comments on how to conduct the Fairness Hearing and public input process are due.
Feb. 5: Deadline for replies in Support of Motions to Intervene.
Feb 19: Hearing on all motions. (9 AM).
This will be covered in the news, but it’s important to spread the word that anyone can be involved who wants to be.
Disability Rights Oregon
The Oregon State Bar will prosecute Washington County’s district attorney and a defense attorney on ethics violations stemming from their handling of a mentally ill man’s aggravated murder case.
Kateri Walsh, a state bar spokeswoman, said the decision came Saturday when the State Professional Responsibility Board reviewed the bar’s investigation into the allegations against District Attorney Bob Hermann and defense attorney Robert Axford.
Retired Judge Jim Hargreaves filed complaints regarding the two attorneys with the state bar in December. He also filed a complaint with the judicial fitness commission against Judge Thomas Kohl.
Kohl signed an order for a “mental illness magistrate hold” in October, supposedly sending Donn Thomas Spinosa, 59, to the state hospital indefinitely.
Twice accused in his ex-wife’s 1997 killing in Aloha, Spinosa has never been found mentally fit to stand trial. Doctors have found Spinosa, diagnosed with schizophrenia, unable to care for himself and dangerous to others.
In his complaint to the state bar, Hargreaves said the law does not allow for the magistrate hold.
“Such an order is entirely without legal foundation in Oregon and stripped Mr. Spinosa of all his rights and protections,” Hargreaves wrote in the complaint.
Hargreaves’ complaint says Hermann, Axford and Kohl agreed to an “undeniably invalid order” to sidestep the law.
Hermann and Axford both told the state bar they believed the order was valid and did not intentionally violate the law.
The state hospital asked Kohl to dismiss the order, which he did in May. Spinosa remains in the state hospital under a civil commitment, last renewed in June.
Disability Rights Oregon launched an investigation last year after reading about Spinosa’s case in The Oregonian. Bob Joondeph, the group’s executive director, said in December the organization wanted to know why a judge would skip the civil commitment process and impose an order that doesn’t exist within the law.
At the end of that investigation in July, the advocacy group said in a report that Hermann, Axford and Kohl acted outside the law with the “mental illness magistrate hold.” The legislature makes law, the report said, and in Spinosa’s case, it was the attorneys and judge who “essentially created a new law that allows for a person with mental illness to be detained without the elements of due process.”
A three-person trial panel appointed by the Oregon Supreme Court will hear the bar’s case against Hermann and Axford, Walsh said.
Good morning. It is wonderful to be back here in Portland. I am honored to join Mayor Adams, Chief Reese, and my colleague U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall to report on the results of our investigation of the Portland Police Bureau, and to discuss the road ahead. Today is an important and exciting day for the people of Portland, and for the dedicated men and women of the Portland Police Bureau.
I would like to thank Mayor Adams and Chief Reese for their cooperation throughout this investigation. When we announced our investigation, Chief Reese observed that this is a “unique opportunity to be at the forefront of best practices.” You correctly noted that Portland is not the only city that is addressing the difficult issue of providing police services to people with mental illness. Mayor, you noted at our announcement that you were “humbled in the knowledge that we don’t have it all figured out.” Both the Mayor and the Chief expressed an understandable and well-founded pride in your police department, and pledged their complete cooperation. They delivered on that pledge, were consistently responsive to our document requests, maintained an open door and open file policy throughout our site visits, and have been very receptive to our feedback. I would also like to thank the officers of the Portland Police Bureau for their cooperation and feedback. Our job is to make your job safer and more rewarding. Finally, we are very grateful to the community. We held a town hall meeting, conducted scores of interviews, and listened and learned from so many community members. Your perspective was and continues to be critical, and we will continue to seek out your views.
As a result of the cooperation we received throughout the investigation, we made remarkable progress in record time. As U.S. Attorney Marshall pointed out, we have completed our review; we have diagnosed the problem; identified its root causes; and have reached a preliminary agreement with the city of Portland and PPB, which will remedy the problems and enhance both officer and public safety, while allowing PPB to be at the forefront of best practices.
As U.S. Attorney Marshall outlined, for more than a year, the Justice Department has been conducting an in-depth investigation of PPB’s use of force, with a particular focus on its interactions with people with mental illness or in mental health crisis. Our review was prompted in large part by the high number of officer involved shootings of people with mental illness. The investigation was driven by a single goal: to ensure that Portland is served by an effective, accountable police bureau that controls crime, respects the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it protects.
Our investigation was exhaustive and was conducted by department attorneys, investigators and subject matter experts, including police practices experts and a psychiatrist who specializes in working with law enforcement to develop models for effective interaction with people with mental illness. We conducted a thorough review of use of force by PPB officers, which included reviewing thousands of pages of documents, and conducting extensive outreach to the community, through hundreds of interviews with community members, mental health service providers, city officials, PPB officers, supervisors and command staff. We looked at a range of police interactions, including encounters with people who have mental illness or were perceived to have mental illness. Let me focus on the problem we identified. Based on our review, we have concluded that, while most uses of force were lawful, there is reasonable cause to believe that PPB is engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people with mental illness, or those perceived to have mental illness. We found that encounters between PPB officers and persons living with mental illness too frequently result in a use of force, or in a higher level of force than necessary. We further found that, when dealing with people with mental illness, PPB officers use electronic control weapons, or tasers, in circumstances where the use of tasers was not justified, or deploy them more times than necessary. Finally, in situations where PPB officers arrest people with mental illness for low level offenses, we found that there is a pattern or practice of using more force than necessary in these circumstances.
It is important to reiterate that the challenges we identified here are not unique to Portland. Police work has transformed dramatically in recent years. One Portland officer described how years ago, encounters with people who have mental illness were few and far between. Today, it is a daily occurrence for most officers, and often occurs more than once per day. Communities across the United States are wrestling with how to deliver police services to people with mental illness. We have seen and are working on these issues in other communities and believe that the work we do here in Portland will serve as an important guidepost for communities facing similar challenges.
Let me next turn to root causes. We conclude that deficiencies in policy, training and supervision contribute to the problems we identified. These underlying deficiencies have existed for many years, and precede the tenure of Mayor Adams and Chief Reese. While they did not create the problems, they own the problems, and they have accepted ownership of both the problems and the solutions. They wasted no time in beginning the reform process. A number of critical reforms are already in place. When we presented our findings to them, we immediately pivoted to brainstorming and problem solving, even though they did not agree with everything we found.
As a result, we have reached a preliminary agreement with the city and PPB about the path forward. We have developed a blueprint for sustainable change that will enhance public safety and officer safety, ensure constitutional policing, and enhance public confidence in PPB. The blueprint, which we are in the process of memorializing into a binding, court enforceable agreement, will require PPB to do the following:
Develop state of the art policies and protocols for interacting with people who have mental illness or are perceived to have mental illness;
Dramatically expand its capacity to provide services to people with mental illness by expanding its mobile crisis unit, establish a mental health desk at the Bureau of Emergency Services so that 911 calls are properly funneled to the appropriate response team, and assist in leading efforts to increase community mental health treatment options, such as 24 hour walk-in centers and other facilities that expand options for police officers seeking to assist a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis;
Revamp and expand training related to crisis intervention and use of force;
Enhance usage of its early warning system to better identify officers whose actions may require review;
Ensure that effective supervisory and accountability systems are in place to review use of force; and
Create a mechanism for ensuring that community stakeholders and front-line officers have a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on critical reforms.
Before we finalize any agreement, we want to go back to the community and hear from them again, and hear from other key stakeholders, including police officers. To all who have weighed in during this process, I recognize that this is your agreement; this is your department; this is your community, and we want to ensure that your voice is heard.
I am very excited about our blueprint, and look forward to hearing feedback from key stakeholders in the days ahead. Our goal is to complete our work in the next month.
I am acutely mindful of the fact that this agreement alone will not solve the problem in its entirety. Our findings take place against the backdrop of a statewide mental health infrastructure that has a number of key deficiencies. The absence of a comprehensive, community-based mental health infrastructure means that front line officers confronting a person experiencing a mental health crisis frequently have only two options: take the person to jail or the emergency room. In communities across the country, the largest mental health facility is the jail. That isn’t right. People in mental health crisis are sick, and generally don’t belong in jail. The largest mental health facility in a state or county shouldn’t be the jail. Officers must have additional options, and people in crisis must have additional options. We have worked successfully with other states, such as Delaware, to build a comprehensive community based mental health infrastructure. As the United States Attorney mentioned, we are working here in Oregon with state officials in a constructive, collaborative fashion on the development and implementation of a holistic, community based mental health infrastructure that, when implemented, will enhance both officer and public safety.
Our formal findings in this case are focused on PPB’s interactions with people who have mental illness. While the bulk of our investigation focused on this area, it was not limited to this area. A number of additional concerns were brought to our attention. While we did not make any formal findings regarding these additional concerns, it is impossible to ignore the tensions that exist between PPB and certain communities of color in Portland. Last year, Mayor Adams noted that one reason he welcomed our presence was his hope that this would lead to improved relations between PPB and Portland’s communities of color. We heard consistent and serious concerns from across the city that members this community, particularly the African American community, believe that they are subjected to bias stops and force based on their race. Although these tensions predate Chief Reese’s tenure, they persist to this day.
Our agreement with the city will begin to address these important issues in two ways. First, the new policies, procedures, training and accountability surrounding force will help ensure that unnecessary and unreasonable force is eliminated. Second, a community body will be created to monitor the agreement, collect feedback from the community and provide recommendations to PPB and the department. The mechanism for community engagement and input that we are creating as part of this resolution will not be limited to mental health issues. Rather, it is deliberately designed to create an opportunity for dialogue and action between PPB and communities of color.
Considerable work lies ahead. Change is not easy. Change requires time, persistence, partnership, a sound plan, resources, effective leadership and sustained community engagement. All the ingredients are here in Portland. We have made great progress. I am very confident that we will achieve Chief Reese’s goal of placing PPB at the forefront of best practices. Portland is a great community, and when these improvements are fully in place, it will be an even greater community.
The Department of Justice Reviews The Portland Police Bureau
September 13, 2012
When the Department of Justice announced a federal investigation into our officers’ use of force last year, I said that I welcomed the inquiry and noted that we had even asked for a best practices evaluation. What I said then holds true today: “We are humble in the knowledge that we don’t have it all figured out.”
In its year-long investigation, the Department of Justice has committed to rooting out the issues this City and its Police Bureau face, especially in dealing with a growing population facing mental health crises. I am grateful for the expertise brought to bear in its evaluation.
The Oregonian, September 14, 2012
Mayor Sam Adams’ Statement 9/13/12
Two years ago, community leaders, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and I asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to review the Portland Police Bureau for bias, regardless of whether or not it is intentional, unconscious or institutional. Anything.
During this federal investigation, we opened our books, our doors and our minds.
Yesterday, I received a 42-page letter detailing the findings of their 14-month investigation.
It includes a critique of our financially-starved community-based mental health system. It states, “Our findings take place against a backdrop of a mental health infrastructure that has a number of key deficiencies…” with, “…insufficient options for adequate community based mental health services.”
Given our anemic community-based mental health system, I appreciate that the findings note that the already tough job of our police officers has gotten even tougher, with situations that “…often shifts to law enforcement agencies the burden of being first responders to individuals in mental health crisis.”
In my last budget, this local mental health system crisis was a key reason I did not cut sworn police or firefighter positions. My thanks to the hardworking officers of the Portland Police Bureau for working in a tough situation.
I am pleased that the findings state that, “…most uses of force we reviewed were constitutional…” that “…many of the systemic deficiencies discussed in this letter originated prior to the current PPB administration, which has been aggressive in pursuing reform.” I agree, we have a great improvement-minded Chief of Police in Mike Reese.
But the findings are blunt in its assessment that we get a failing grade dealing with the growing number of Portlanders who face serious mental illness and addiction. We occasionally use, “…unnecessary or unreasonable force during interactions with people who have or are perceived to have mental illness.”
Without defensiveness or finger pointing, we all need to absorb the seriousness of this critique and the urgent need for change. We all need to take our portion of the responsibility to improve the situation.
We will improve and we will begin to do it quickly.
Some needed changes are already underway. Like our new Police Training Center and Citizen Advisory Council. Like the diverse classes of new police recruits, drug testing and officer evaluations. I have agreed in concept to others changes in the letter of agreement:
1 Use of Force: The City is committed to revise its use of force policies to ensure that officers have necessary guidance when encountering someone with mental illness or perceived to have mental illness. In particular, the City will enhance its policy guidance on the use of Electronic Control Weapons (ECW) and techniques to de-escalate encounters arising from non-criminally related well-being checks and arrests for low level offenses.
The Chief’s initiative to ensure that supervisors respond to the scene of uses of force will be continued and there will be meaningful use of force reviews through the chain of command. Training curricula will be reviewed and adjusted where appropriate to reflect the requirements of the agreement.
2 Crisis Intervention: PPB will continue to provide crisis intervention training to all officers. In addition, it will expand its Mobile Crisis Unit to ensure availability at all times and enhance non-law enforcement capacity to respond to persons in crisis that do not pose a public safety threat. Each Mobile Crisis Unit team will consist of one specially trained officer and one specially trained mental health worker from a local social services agency.
The City agrees to establish a mental health desk at Bureau of Emergency Communications (911) staffed by trained dispatchers to ensure that calls are properly dispatched. BOEC will also direct suicide prevention/mental health calls to the County Crisis Call Center or Lines for Life when on-site PPB response is not appropriate.
The City also agrees to lead efforts to increase community mental health treatment options, such as through the establishment of a 24 hour secure drop-off and walk-in center that will provide police officers more options when assisting persons experiencing a mental health crisis.
3 Early Intervention System: The City has a robust Early Intervention System (EIS) that can track officer specific information as well as unit level and trend data. The City will utilize the system to identify individual officers, supervisors, and units for non-punitive corrective action, and to assess gaps in policy, training, supervision and accountability.
4 Misconduct Investigation: Investigations of allegations of officer misconduct are effective and fair to the officer, complainant and community only if they can be completed in a timely manner. The City agrees to take necessary steps to expedite the investigations of those complaints while preserving the thoroughness and quality of investigations and community participation.
5 Community Engagement and Outreach: Community participation in the oversight of this agreement will be important to its success. A community body will be adopted to assess on an ongoing basis the implementation of this agreement, make recommendations to the parties on additional actions, and advise the Chief and Mayor on strategies to improve community relations. The body will also provide the community with information on the agreement, its implementation and receive comments and concerns. Membership will be representative of the many and diverse communities in Portland, including persons with mental illness, mental health providers, faith communities, minority, ethnic, and other community organizations, and student or youth organizations.
These reforms and new resources will propel the Portland Police Bureau further down the path as it becomes the best local peacekeeping agency in the nation.
I welcome your thoughts and ideas.
Sam Adams – Portland Mayor
Feds: Portland Police Bureau has pattern of excessive force
A U.S. Department of Justice investigation concluded that the Portland Police Bureau engages in “a pattern and practice of excessive use of force,” specifically when dealing with the mentally ill, U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall announced Thursday.
The investigation found such use of force violates the U.S. Constitution. Still, she said, the problems revealed in the probe are not unique to Portland and the vast majority of PPB’s use of force falls within constitutional limits.
The investigation was launched in June, 2011 to examine the use of deadly force against all citizens, with a specific look at the mentally ill.
The PPB had a “high number of officer-involved shootings, especially those involving people with mental illness,” Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez explained at a press conference Thursday.
The findings revealed that too often Tasers and other uses of force were used when they were not necessary, Perez said.
He said training deficiencies within the department helped lead to the civil rights issues, and department has wasted no time in beginning the process of improving.
The investigation followed several controversial police shootings, including the death of Aaron Campbell. The January 2010 incident sparked protests and one officer was fired for his use of deadly force.
Another high-profile case was the death of James Chasse, who died in PPB custody after an encounter with police in Old Town in September 2006. Officers said Chasse appeared to be urinating outdoors and when he tried to get away they tackled him. His autopsy revealed that Chasse suffered 26 rib fractures and a punctured lung.
Investigators said they would look for systemic problems within the PPB and would also meet with community leaders outside of the bureau.
A federal investigation has concluded the Portland Police Bureau has a pattern of excessive use of force, and a mental health advocate told KGW the findings should be seen as a positive step.
But he said the agreement between the Dept. of Justice and the bureau lacks the teeth to effect significant change.
Chris O’Connor is a local attorney and board member of the Mental Health Association of Portland.
He agrees with the conclusion that there is a lack of infrastructure to deal with people suffering from mental issues. But he does not agree that the suggested policy changes laid out Thursday–like expanding the city’s mobile crisis team–will reduce excessive use of force cases involving the mentally ill.
“At the end of the day, there’s still no power in the hands of civilians,” O’Connor said, “to remove dangerous officers or discipline in a meaningful way, those who are violating their own policies,”
O’Conner believes local governments need to redirect resources to provide mental health services up front, instead of arresting and incarcerating people suffering from them.
Report: Portland police using excessive force against mentally ill
Portland police officers use excessive force against people with mental illnesses, a U.S. Department of Justice report has found.
The Justice Department presented its findings in a press conference Thursday in downtown Portland. The investigation, which began in June of 2011, determined that the “Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has engaged in an unconstitutional pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness,” according to a press release.
The joint investigation by the Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon focused heavily on the police response to mental health situations. There was “reasonable cause to believe that PPB engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in certain contexts,” the department said.
Specifically, the report found that officers are often utilizing Tasers for situations that do not justify their use, and furthermore, that they frequently Taser someone more times than necessary. It also found that officers will often use excessive force for what it termed “low level offenses.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said that over the last three years, Portland police have used deadly force 12 times, 10 of which involved people with mental health issues. Perez cited longstanding training practices as the root cause of the problem.
“These underlying deficiencies have existed for many years, and precede the tenure of Mayor Adams and Chief Reese,” Perez said. “While they have not created the problem, they own the problem, and they have indeed accepted ownership of both the problems and the solutions that lie ahead.”
The Justice Department stated that the 42-page report was presented to Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, who were in attendance at Thursday’s press conference. A preliminary agreement has since been reached to make changes to PPB officer training, practices and supervision, the Justice Department said.
Perez disclosed that Portland police cooperated fully with the over one-year long investigation, maintaining what he called an “open door policy.”
In response to the report, Adams issued a statement that read, in part:
“The findings are blunt in its assessment that we get a failing grade dealing with the growing number of Portlanders who face serious mental illness and addiction… Without defensiveness or finger pointing, we all need to absorb the seriousness of this critique and the urgent need for change.”
The mayor laid out a series of changes that will be implemented, including setting up a mental health desk at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) and expanding its Mobile Crisis Unit, which handles mental health calls.
Feds: Portland Police Bureau uses ‘excessive force’ with mentally ill
The Department of Justice said Thursday that the Portland Police Bureau violated the U.S. Constitution by engaging in a “pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness.”
The Justice Department opened their investigation in June 2011 after an 18 month period where Portland police officers were involved with eight shootings with mentally ill people.
“The findings are very blunt in their assessment that we get a failing grade for dealing with the growing number of Portlanders dealing with mental health issues,” said Mayor Sam Adams.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said investigators found a pattern of excessive force against both people with mental illnesses or people perceived to have mental issues. That includes using force that wasn’t justified or using more force than was necessary.
“We conclude that this pattern or practice results from deficiencies in policy, training and supervision,” the report said. “We recognize that many of the systemic deficiencies discussed in this letter originated prior to the current PPB administration, which has been aggressive in pursuing reform”
Perez said the Justice Department and the city have reached a preliminary agreement on improvements, such as increased training, expedited investigations and a new oversight committee.
Perez and U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall both sounded optimistic during a news conference about the report when they talked about how the city could fix problems moving forward.
“There is no city in America with a better track record of working together to find solutions to problems such as these,” Marshall said
Perez said Portland’s mayor and police chief cooperate
When looking at how Portland police officers used force, the report singled out stun gun use, saying officers frequently discharged them without justification or used them too many times on a given suspect.
The report also said officers too often used force for relatively minor offenses.
Federal officials also said Oregon’s statewide mental health system has “gaps in services” that often make the police the first responders when people are in a mental health crisis.
“Given the anemic community-based mental health system, I appreciate that the findings note that the already tough job of our police officers has gotten even tougher,” Adams said in an open letter to Portlanders about the findings.
The report found that officers often have the burden of being “first responders to individuals in mental health crisis.”
The police bureau said that between 2001 and 2011, the number of calls each year for people attempteing or threatening suicide has nearly doubled.
“As a law enforcement agency, over the last decade, we have had a dynamic shift from responding to criminal issues to responding to social disorder,” said police chief Mike Reese. “Unfortunately, our system has given officers less options to help people who are afflicted with mental health issues and sometimes concurrent drug and alcohol problems. We have not been adequately prepared for the changing circumstances in our community, related to mental health.”
Mayor Adams, Chief Reese and the federal officials behind the report said on Thursday they were committed to improving how the Portland Police Bureau deals with mentally ill people.
“Fundamentally I think we have to treat people with mental health crisis with compassion and empathy,” Reese said. “We can’t treat them the same way we do as someone that’s committed a bank robbery.”
To help achieve that, city and federal officials laid out a series of preliminary agreement of steps they city and police bureau will take. They include:
Establishing policies that give officers clear guidance when dealing with people who have a mental illness or who are perceived to have a mental illness. Specifically, the city will lay out techniques for officers to de-escalate encouters stemming from non-criminal welfare checks or for low-level offenses.
Having more specially-trained officers and civilians to deal with crisis situations
Having a system to identify gaps in policy, training and supervision
Expediting investigations about possible misconduct while still doing a thorough job
Creating a body to ensure community oversight of reforms
The City of Portland can be held legally responsible if these reforms are not implemented. The city and federal officials have to commit to a final agreement by October 12, 2012.
Daryl Turner, the president of the Portland Police Association, said he disagrees with the Justice Department’s position that Portland officers engaged in a pattern of unreasonable force against the mentally ill.
He also pointed out the report says what officers have been saying for years: Oregon’s mental health infastructure is broken and leaves officers as “frontline responders to the mentally ill.”
“The equation is simple,” Turner said. “We need more officers to help address the increased demands placed on them by a broken mental health infastructure.”
Federal officials have conducted similar reviews in other states. Seattle officials recently reached a deal with the Department of Justice, agreeing to court oversight and independent monitoring of the city’s police department.
The issue of how police deal with the mentally ill has been a topic for years in Portland.
The DOJ announced its Portland investigation in the aftermath of the death of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed man who was fatally shot by officers who responded to a call that he was threatening suicide.
Another prominent case involved the death James Chasse Jr., a mentally ill man who died after he was chased and tackled by officers after he was said to have urinated in public in 2006.
Q&A: DOJ Critical Of Portland Police Over Use Of Force
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that the Portland Police Bureau has “engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive force against people with mental illness.”
OPB’s Kristian Foden-Vencil has been covering this issue and joins us in the studio now. Hello.
Kristian: Hi, Beth
Beth: This sounds pretty serious. Can you give us a little background?
Kristian: Absolutely. Last year, Mayor Sam Adams, Commissioner Dan Saltzman and many others called for a civil rights investigation into the police.
It came after a series high profile cases, like the shooting of Aaron Campbell, who was distraught over the death of his brother; and the death of James Chasse, who was mentally ill and died after being forcibly arrested.
So, the Department of Justice has now finished that investigation and delivered this report.
Beth: Apart from the finding that police use unreasonable force against people with mental illness, what else was in the report?
Kristian: Well it’s extensive and it found officers used stun guns when they weren’t justified – or stunned suspects repeatedly without reasonable cause.
One example in the report, involved a man who was screaming in his apartment. Police got a key and found him naked on the floor shouting for help. When he saw them, he leapt-up and ran towards them. But an officer immediately fired his stun gun. The man fell to the ground and when he attempted to get up, he was stunned three more times. Anyway, it turned out he was diabetic and experiencing a medical emergency.
So the report has several of those kinds of examples and it concludes that the police bureau acted unconstitutionally.
But I want to make it clear that the Justice Department did not to point to problems with individual officers. Instead, the Department found that there are key deficiencies in the mental health infrastructure which leave police as the line of last resort when dealing with the mentally ill. Here’s Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez.
Thomas Perez: “The challenges we identified in Portland, are not unique to Portland. Police work has transformed dramatically in recent years. I remember vividly a Portland police officers who described how, years ago, encounters with people who have mental illness were few and far between. Today that person pointed out, it is a daily occurrence.”
Beth: How have the police bureau and Mayor Sam Adams reacted?
Kristian: Well, the mayor said there’s a need for change and that the police bureau has already begun that change. He was also pleased the report highlighted the problems in Oregon’s mental health system.
Sam Adams: “Without defensiveness or finger pointing, we all need to absorb the seriousness of this critic and urgent need for change. We all need to take our portion of the responsibility to change the situation.”
Kristian: The chief of police, Mike Reese, took the report hard. He was sombre, but stressed that his agency has already entered into a preliminary agreement with the Department of Justice to rectify the situation.
He told me afterwards that his officers will be trained to look for the difference between a suspicious criminal and someone who is mentally ill or in crisis.
He said officers will be trained to de-escalate situations and check to see if someone is not taking commands because they’re being belligerent or because they’re having mental health problems.
Finally, he said he’s hoping for new tools, that will provide officers the information they need when they’re in a tricky situation.
Mike Reese: “There’s a lot of information that health care providers have, that we don’t have access too and in a moment of crisis I think we should access to that information if we’re going to provide a better service to that person. Conversely we have a lot of information we would be happy to share with mental health providers so that they know this person is interacting with police frequently. There are things we can do in terms of dispatch protocols. So when dispatchers take that 911 call from a citizen, and they ask, police, fire or medical, we want them to ask mental health.”
Beth: Finally, how are people in the mental health community reacting to this report.
Kristian: Good question. In a nutshell, they’re pleased. Derald Walker of Cascadia Behavioral Health says he hopes this will wind up helping the mentally ill.
Derald Walker:“I think sometimes unfortunately what has to happen in these situations is that the Department of Justice has to step in, render an opinion and almost force our system to provide the funding necessary to really get us up to where we should be.”
Beth: So, what’s next?
Kristian: Well, a series of public meetings will be organized for the next month. That’ll give Portland residents a chance to look at the preliminary agreement — and perhaps add their own recommendations.
Beth: Thank you Kristian.
Kristian: My pleasure.
Justice Dept.: Portland police use excessive force, particularly against mentally ill
The Portland Police Bureau has engaged in a “pattern and practice” of excessive use of force, particularly against mentally ill suspects, the U.S. Justice Department has concluded after a 14-month investigation.
U.S. Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall announced the findings at a news conference Thursday.
Marshall said the findings of the report were “grave and serious.”
The report found problems with Portland Police Bureau’s policies, training and supervision.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez pointed to deficiencies in Oregon’s statewide infrastructure for mental health. He added that it was impossible to ignore the “the tensions that exist” between police and communities of color in Portland.
The federal inquiry also found that Portland police have too frequently used Taser stun guns on suspects.
Officials at the news conference said that the Justice Department and the police bureau had reached a preliminary agreement to implement changes that address the problems highlighted in the report.
The agreement calls for community feedback and input on Portland police practices.
Mayor Sam Adams, who also attended the news conference along with Police Chief Mike Reese, said, “Without defensiveness or finger-pointing, we all need to absorb the seriousness of this critique.”
He said the police bureau already has begun making changes, citing the creation of a new training center and police training advisory council.
“There is an urgent need for change,” Adams said.
Reese reacted to the report by saying, “It’s disappointing to learn the Department of Justice believes you haven’t got it right.”
But he also said he sees room for bettering the way the bureau works.
“We need to react to people in mental health crisis with empathy and compassion,” Reese said. “We can’t treat them the same way we treat a bank robber.”
He said the bureau needs to forge better relationships with social services partners.
“We all agree this bureau and this community can improve the way we serve Portland’s vulnerable population,” Reese said.
Feds find cause to believe Portland police use excessive force on mentally ill
Federal civil rights investigators have found “reasonable cause” to believe that police in Portland, Oregon, use “unnecessary or unreasonable force” with persons who have mental illness, the U.S. Justice Department said.
The department’s civil rights division and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon issued a letter to Portland Mayor Sam Adams stating that local and federal authorities will “continue our collaborative relationship to craft sustainable remedies.”
In the 42-page letter, federal officials outline remedies that include training and new policies to investigate alleged police misconduct.
Investigators found cause to believe that the Portland Police Bureau engages in “a pattern or practice of using excessive force in encounters involving people with actual or perceived mental illness.”
“We found instances that support a pattern of dangerous uses of force against persons who posed little or no threat and who could not, as a result of their mental illness, comply with officers’ commands,” said the letter, which was signed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez and U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall.
“We also found that PPB employs practices that escalate the use of force where there were clear earlier junctures when the force could have been avoided or minimized.”
One incident in December 2010 involved several officers who used “repeated closed-fist punches and repeated shocking of a subject who was to be placed on a mental health hold,” the letter said.
Adams, in a posting on his web page, vowed that the city and its Police Bureau would improve quickly, and listed a series of changes:
– The city will revise its use-of-force policies — particularly those regarding the use of stun guns — “to ensure that officers have necessary guidance when encountering someone with mental illness or perceived to have mental illness.”
– The police will expand their Mobile Crisis Unit — composed of an officer and a mental health worker — “to ensure availability at all times and enhance non-law enforcement capacity to respond to persons in crisis that do not pose a public safety threat.”
– The city will establish a mental health desk at its 911 calling center to ensure calls are properly dispatched.
– The city will lead efforts to boost community mental health treatment options, such as establishing a 24-hour secure drop-off and walk-in center, “that will provide police officers more options when assisting persons experiencing a mental health crisis.”
– The city will use an early intervention system to identify officers, supervisors and units “for non-punitive corrective action, and to assess gaps in policy, training, supervision and accountability.”
– The city will move to speed investigations of complaints about possible officer misconduct.
– A community body composed of representatives of a variety of groups will assess how well the agreement is being implemented, offer recommendations on additional steps, and advise the police chief and Adams on how to improve community relations.
Justice Department cites five instances to show Portland Police’s pattern of excessive force
The U.S. Department of Justice pointed to five instances from 2010 and 2011, taken from a “larger group of problematic cases” to show the Portland Police Bureau’s pattern of excessive force. These are summarized from Justice Department findings and police reports of the incidents:
May 14, 2010: Police were called to Old Town to investigate reports of a man wandering in the street, spitting on cars and talking to himself. They found Aaron Emanuel Ferguson who “raised his fists to the officer’s face in an effort to show the officer his hospital identification bracelet,” the Justice Department report states. Assistant Sgt. M. Delenikos shoved his fist away and saw Ferguson take “a fighting stance.” He ordered him to back up and then pepper-sprayed Ferguson, who walked backward toward the street. Delenikos warned him to sit or he would use a stun gun on him, but Ferguson didn’t sit down. Delenikos fired his Taser at him four times, claiming that Ferguson “turtled up” and wouldn’t extend his arms to be handcuffed.
Among several issues, the Justice Department report notes that “spitting on passing cars is a low-level offense, if an offense at all and does not warrant this degree of force.” The federal investigators wrote that the supervisor found the use of force to be permissible “and no attempt to even counsel the officer on better tactics was even offered.”
Aug. 15, 2010: Police entered a downtown apartment where they heard the occupant yelling for help and believed him to be suffering a medical emergency. Inside, they saw Anthony Charles Caviness lying naked on the floor. He was unarmed. Police say he leapt up and ran toward them. Officer Joshua Sparks fired his Taser without warning at Caviness’ chest and repeated the cycle three more times. After police handcuffed him, officers learned he was diabetic and suffering a medical emergency.
Federal investigators noted, among other things, that “though the officers may have felt threatened when the individual ran towards them, this threat is mitigated, at least in part, by the presence of three PPB officers facing a naked, unarmed individual.”
Dec. 26, 2010: Two officers were called to help mental health workers who wanted to evaluate Samuel Michael Serrill at an Old Town apartment building. Serrill followed officers’ orders to come out of his room, put his hands on his head and take a seat. Officers verified he had no weapons. After Serrill made incoherent statements, the mental health workers asked police to detain him. Officers grabbed for his arms, but Serrill rolled onto his stomach, hiding his arms under his body, according to the Justice Department report. Officer Chad Phifer warned him to show his arms and then applied his Taser to Serrill’s back. Phifer continued firing it several more times as the man tried to pull away. Phifer then punched Serrill in the ribs as many as six times while Officer Kevin Allen hit the man with a closed first to the back of his neck and shoulders. The officers fired the Taser at him another six times before handcuffing him and taking him to a mental health hospital.
Among other issues, the Justice Department investigators noted “the officers were there to perform a welfare check, not to arrest someone for committing a crime.”
May 15, 2011: Officer Richard Storm went to check on an unarmed man who was standing in the rain in Southeast Portland for more than an hour. They couldn’t communicate because of a language barrier and Storm went to call for help from a Spanish-speaking officer. When Storm stepped out of his car, Fausto Brambila-Naranjo “kicked at” the officer but did not make contact, the Justice Department report states. Storm grabbed his leg and threw him on the ground. As Brambila-Naranjo rolled onto his back, Storm punched him seven to 10 times in the face while the man tried to grab the officer’s hands to stop the blows. After learning Brambila-Naranjo’s name, Storm recalled he had been reported missing by a group home that was concerned about his diabetes, according to his police report. The Justice Department investigators noted that Brambila-Naranjo was acting in self-defense from being hit in the face: “The officer made no attempt to explain in his (report on use of force) why so many punches to the head were necessary to control the subject.”
May 17, 2011: Officers were called to a home where 42-year-old Joseph James Dowless allegedly threatened his mother and hit her in the head. Dowless had a history of mental illness. Officers were told that he had a sword in his room. Police went up to the son’s room after he ignored their orders to come downstairs. They opened his door and ordered him to stand and put his hands on his head. Although Dowless stood up, he wouldn’t put his hands on his head and moved toward the door, the Justice Departmentreport states. Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas shot him with a beanbag round. Officer Kevin Wolf wrote in his police report that Dowless then refused to interlace his fingers, prompting Wolf to fire his Taser at Dowless’ back. This occurred, the Justice Department report noted, even though Dowless’ hands were clearly visible and officers didn’t see a sword or any other weapon in his possession. “There were less intrusive alternatives available than shooting the suspect with a bean bag gun” and Tasing him, the federal report said.
Portland police promise improved approach to mental illness after scathing Justice Department report
Facing an ultimatum from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Portland Police Bureau Thursday pledged to pair more officers with mental health experts, bring back a specialized team of experienced officers to respond to mental health calls and help reroute certain 911 calls to mental health providers.
These are some of the reforms that the bureau has agreed to make after federal justice officials announced they’ve found Portland police have engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force against people who suffer from or are perceived to suffer from mental illness.
Many of the Justice Department’s recommendations aren’t new. Community activists, mental health advocates, lawyers who have sued the police bureau, and even some Portland officers have urged the bureau to take similar actions for years, without much success.
“On paper all of the recommendations seem to make sense, and actually parrot lots of complaints that the community and people like me have been making for a long time,” said Tom Steenson, the attorney who represented the families of James P. Chasse Jr. and Aaron Campbell, two men who died in police custody.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez released the highly critical report of Portland police use of force after a 14-month-long federal investigation. Perez stood with U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese in a police bureau conference room at the downtown Justice Center.
Marshall called the findings “grave and serious.” Yet Marshall and Perez said they’re confident the city of Portland would embrace the necessary reforms to ensure people from Portland’s most vulnerable population and their families aren’t afraid to turn to police for help.
The bureau and the Justice Department aim to finalize a more-detailed agreement by Oct. 12, after seeking further community input. The agreement will be signed by a federal judge and could be enforced by the court. Federal justice investigators would provide continued oversight.
“While we have indeed identified serious deficiencies” Perez said, “we have reached a preliminary agreement to improve public safety and to ensure the Constitution is respected.”
Perez highlighted the considerable gaps in mental health care in the state and the high number of homeless people in Portland as conditions that have forced police to serve as first-responders to people suffering mental health crises.
Adams acknowledged the city and police “get a failing grade” in dealing with the mentally ill. He estimated the changes may cost “millions of dollars,” and suggested the city will be working with the county, mental health providers and also pursuing federal grant money to help pay for them.
“Without defensiveness or fingerpointing, we all need to absorb the seriousness of this critique and urgent need for change,” Adams said.
The police chief described his initial reaction as one of disappointment.
“It’s disappointing to learn the Department of Justice believes you haven’t got it right.” Reese said. But while defending his officers, he pledged to move ahead with the reforms.
“We all agree this bureau and this community can improve the way we serve Portland’s vulnerable population,” Reese said. He added, “What we’re talking about today is about process and systems, not about police officers…They’re not the ones to blame. I support them.”
The Justice Department found that Portland police:
too frequently use a higher level of force than necessary against people suffering from mental illness;
use Taser stun guns when their use is unnecessary or fire repeated Taser shocks against individuals that are unwarranted; and
use a higher level of force than justified for low-level offenses.
In a 42-page letter to the mayor, the federal officials found officers frequently escalate conflict, rush in to an encounter when they can hold back, and continue to use force even when the need for it has waned.
Portland police have used Taser stun guns without warning, fired multiple Taser stun gun cycles on a single person and failed to re-evaluate the stun gun’s use between cycles. Even when officers’ Taser use clearly violated existing bureau policy, the Taser deployments later “were approved by the chain of command,” the letter said.
“We found that PPB officers often do not adequately consider a person’s mental state before using force and that there is instead a pattern of responding inappropriately to persons in mental health crisis,” Perez’s letter said. “These practices engender fear and distrust in the Portland community, which ultimately impacts PPB’s ability to police effectively.”
The DOJ said that its expert found Portland officers seem to harbor greater fear of people with mental illness than do officers in other cities.
The federal agency found that the excessive force used by officers results from bureau “deficiencies in policy, training and supervision” that have existed for a long time. Supervisors have failed to hold officers accountable for excessive force, and the city’s process for reviewing police use of force complaints takes too long, is “byzantine” and “self-defeating,” the review found.
The city of Portland has paid out about $6 million in the last 20 years to settle lawsuits related to alleged police misconduct.
“While they have not created the problem” Perez said of the current police administration, “they own the problem.”
Justice officials recommended that Portland police immediately stop using the term “mentals,” which the investigators heard used in a police roll call presentation.
In a footnote, the Justice Department cited as callous the Portland police training division’s use of former Officer Chris Humphreys‘ controversial use of a beanbag shotgun against an unarmed 12-year-old girl as an “exemplary” model of how a less-lethal weapon is used. The federal justice officials informed bureau managers, and Reese then forbade the incident from being used in training.
The proposed settlement between the police and federal justice department calls for an array of changes in bureau policies and practices.
The bureau would revise its use of force policies so officers have “necessary guidance” when encountering someone with mental illness. Taser use would be restricted and officers would be directed to focus on de-escalating encounters. The bureau would expand its single Mobile Crisis Unit team, which pairs an officer with a Project Respond mental health expert, to provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week coverage. A Mental Health Triage Desk would be created at the dispatch center so that mental health-related calls are properly routed to the appropriate agency.
Under the agreement, the city would also work with community mental health providers to try to open a 24-hour secure center where police could drop off people suffering with mental illness, which would give officers more options. Clients could also walk into the center.
Justice officials also urged the bureau to bring back scenario-based role-playing in its crisis intervention training. The report advocates training officers to go “hands on” to make an arrest after an initial use of less-lethal force, and called for the bureau to find a way to interview officers involved in shootings immediately afterward.
Derald Walker, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s chief executive officer, said many of the recommendations will take added resources. “Like so many thing, it’s all about the money,” Walker said. “It’s going to require a huge amount of political and public will to see that happen.”
Officer Daryl Turner, Portland Police Association president, said he disagreed with the federal agency’s conclusions. He called on the city to hire more officers to meet the requested reforms.
“As Chief Reese has said, the officers ‘are not to blame,’ ” Turner said, in a statement. “Nevertheless, we all can take comfort in at least two things – the USDOJ did not find a pattern and practice of unreasonable force against any particular race, nor did the USDOJ find a pattern and practice of unreasonable deadly force.”
Perez, at Thursday’s news conference, said there were obvious “tensions that exist between the Portland Police Bureau and communities of color.” Perez said he hoped a new community group set up to monitor the proposed bureau reforms will also work to address this problem, as well.
He urged the bureau to conduct a bureau-wide “intensive cultural sensitivity and competency training.”
“All citizens – especially our most vulnerable – must be able to trust the police,” Perez said.
Mental health in Oregon: State has more work to do
At the podium, Amanda Marshall, U.S. attorney for Oregon. Behind her (L to R): Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez; Portland Police Chief Mike Reese; Portland Mayor Sam Adams.
Six years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Oregon’s mental health system. A lot has happened since then but advocates say a person in the throes of a mental health crisis may actually be worse off today.
That was crystal clear Thursday when the federal Justice Department released an investigation into the Portland Police Bureau that concluded the “absence of a comprehensive community mental health infrastructure” means police are shouldering the burden of being the first to respond to people in crisis. That, despite the fact that Oregon has a new, state-of-the-art mental hospital.
The Justice report, released Thursday, quotes one “high level” Portland Police officer who said he used to encounter people suffering mental health issues “a couple of times a month.” Now it’s “a couple of times a day.”
Everyone seems to agree that the Portland Police report focuses on fixing a short-term crisis but the state needs to continue to work toward long-term solutions.
There are a lot of people working to improve mental health care in Oregon, says Bob Joondeph, executive director for Disability Rights Oregon.
“But I would not say that we have a significant change in conditions on the ground,” he adds. “That may be even worse because there are fewer resources available now than there were a few years ago.”
Still, Joondeph and other advocates say they’re hopeful about national health care reforms, which broaden insurance coverage for more people, and about Oregon’s new coordinated care organizations, intended to focus on prevention and integrate physical and mental health care.
U.S. Justice Department officials are also waiting to see whether the health reforms will take care of their concerns.
In 2006, federal officials warned Oregon that conditions at the state mental hospital violated patients’ civil rights. The state built a $458.1 million hospital in Salem.
Then, in 2010, the Justice Department widened its inquiry, looking at whether Oregonians with mental illness were able to receive care in their communities rather than in a large hospital far from home.
Just as it appeared that federal officials were running out of patience with Oregon’s progress, Gov. John Kitzhaber persuaded them to give the state more time.
The Justice Department agreed.
“We want to be sure we get it right,” Thomas Perez, the department’s top civil rights lawyer said Thursday.
Dr. Bruce Goldberg, head of the Oregon Health Authority, said Oregon has added about 100 beds — community residential treatment or supported housing — in the past two years, Goldberg said.
“It’s good, but it’s not enough,” he acknowledged. “I think we need to do more … Part of the issue is we’ve been challenged as a state by our economic issues.”
Beckie Child, an advocate who has dealt personally with mental health issues, says she wants to see the state invest in housing and peer support for people in treatment.
“They’ve been talking at the 90,000-foot-level and not what it is like for folks on the ground,” she said.
The state is planning to build a new 174-bed hospital in Junction City, though patient advocates argue that it would be better to spend the money helping people get care in their communities.
“The Health Authority needs to talk about how it’s going to make an investment to keep people out of crisis,” said Chris Bouneff, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oregon.
Instead, Bouneff says, state officials are “fixated on a giant institution in Junction City.”
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, says the simple fact that Oregonians are talking more openly about mental health care is a sign of progress.
Several years ago, Courtney was taken into what he calls the “room of lost souls,” where thousands of corroding cans containing the ashes of former hospital patients had been stored and forgotten.
For him, that became a symbol of the state’s long-neglected mental health system.
“We’re moving in the right direction because the only direction we could move was up,” he said. “Are we going fast enough? No. Are we anywhere near where we should be? No.”
Portland officer apologizes for ‘knee-jerk’ message criticizing federal inquiry
Portland Police Officer John Hurlman was seated in his patrol car Thursday morning, listening to a local radio station’s coverage of a news conference at police headquarters. Federal justice department officials were about to unveil their findings after more than a yearlong review of Portland police use of force.
Hurlman sent a text message out to all officers on the patrol car’s mobile computer, alerting them to tune in.
Shortly after the U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall started to speak, another officer texted the news back to all: the U.S. Department of Justice had found that Portland police engage in a pattern and practice of excessive force against people suffering from mental illness.
Annoyed by the outcome, Hurlman said he typed back something like, “This is the same DOJ or people who created Waco and Ruby Ridge.”
The North Precinct officer was referring to two of the biggest federal law enforcement fiascoes in recent memory: the disastrous 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas. The other, the tragic 1992 encounter between the FBI and a band of white separatists at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
Hurlman said he thought he had just responded to one officer but soon learned his message had popped up on all patrol officers’ mobile computers.
“It was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” said the 21-year Portland police veteran. “In the current political climate, it wasn’t appropriate. On second-thought, I probably shouldn’t have done it.”
Yet Hurlman doesn’t hide his anger with the Justice Department’s ruling regarding Portland police.
“I was really annoyed at that moment, and, in fact, I think it’s nonsense,” he said Friday of the federal review. “Quite frankly, we’re being judged by people who don’t have much law enforcement experience.”
Hurlman said he was one of the original Portland officers to volunteer for crisis intervention training, before it became mandatory for all officers.
“We all know the lengths we go to to try to defuse these situations peacefully,” he said. “Nobody wants to go out and harm someone who is mentally ill.”
North Precinct Cmdr. Mike Leloff soon learned of the patrolwide message and called Hurlman into his office for a stern talk. Hurlman said Leloff appropriately, “chewed him out.”
As a result, Hurlman later Thursday texted an apology to all on his patrol car’s mobile computer.
He said it read something like this: “To those who received my earlier message, my remarks were unprofessional and insensitive. I apologize to anyone who received it.”
Portland Lt. Robert King said Friday, “The issue was addressed immediately by the Command Staff and the matter has been dealt with appropriately.”
Hurlman was back on patrol Friday, responding to emergency calls at North Precinct. He said he was advised to be careful about what he says and remain respectful.
A day after the federal report was made public, Hurlman added Friday, “People here are frustrated, to put it mildly.”
Portland Police Chief Responds To Federal Investigation
Last week, the federal Department of Justice released the results of a long-running investigation into how Portland Police officers use force. It that found a pattern of excessive force, especially with people with mental illness.
Monday, on OPB’s Think Out Loud, Police Chief Mike Reese discussed the findings and the future of his bureau.
Host Dave Miller asked Reese what the ideal role would be for police to play with someone with mental illness.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday morning are expected to announce the federal agency’s findings from a more than 14-month-long investigation into Portland police use of force.
Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
The federal agency opened a civil rights investigation June 28, 2011, to determine whether the Portland Police Bureau engages in a “pattern or practice’’ of excessive force, particularly against people with mental illness.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez came to Portland last June to announce the federal inquiry. He said then that the review was prompted by a significant increase in police shootings during the prior 18 months, the majority involving people with mental illness.
Perez is back in town Thursday, set to announce the findings with U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, Mayor Sam Adams and Mike Reese, chief of police, at 10:30 a.m. at the Justice Center, located at 1111 Southwest 2nd Avenue, in Room 14B.
Lt. Robert King, a police spokesman, declined to comment on the nature of the morning’s announcement.
The police investigation was to overlap with an ongoing federal investigation into Oregon’s mental health care system, federal officials said.
Special litigation attorneys in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, have been evaluating bureau policies, procedures and practices, as well as specific officer-involved fatal shootings or deaths in custody.
In February, federal authorities held their first public forum in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood to hear citizens’ accounts of their interactions with Portland police officers. And in August 2011, Justice Department officials held individual interviews with community groups.
If violations are identified, the federal agency will recommend remedies and may monitor the Police Bureau until it’s satisfied the bureau has addressed the problems.
Since the inquiry began, Chief Mike Reese has made some changes in response to federal recommendations. He began to require sergeants immediately initiate investigations into officers’ use of force and assigned a new inspector to analyze data on such incidents, a gap identified by the Justice Department during the course of the inquiry. Just last week, the Portland police released its own 4-page statistical report on police use of force, showing a 35 percent decline between 2008 and 2011.
Earlier this year, Reese defended his officers’ use of force. He cited increasing calls involving suicidal people and decried the faltering safety net for those with mental illness.
Portland joined a growing number of police agencies, including Seattle, Newark, N.J. and New Orleans, that have been targeted for federal review in the last few years, under a 1994 law passed by Congress after the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.
In Seattle, the federal agency announced this summer that a court-appointed monitor was to ensure that Seattle Police revise its use of force policies, and enhance its training, reporting, investigations and supervision of police use of force. The Justice Department found that Seattle police engaged in a “pattern or practice of excessive force,’’ but did not find a practice of discriminatory policing.
The federal inquiry in Portland – the first comprehensive federal investigation into the city’s police bureau- followed a string of controversial Portland officer-involved fatal shootings or deaths in police custody of people suffering from mental illness.
In February 2010, city officials, including former police Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Mayor Sam Adams, had asked the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a full review of the Police Bureau after the Jan. 29, 2010 police fatal shooting of Campbell, an unarmed black man who was distraught following the death of his brother earlier that day.
Community leaders disturbed by the high-profile police shootings and deaths in custody also pressed for such an inquiry.
Among their concerns: the high profile September 2006 death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia; the fatal shooting of a 58-year-old homeless man Jack Dale Collins who emerged from a restroom at Hoyt Arboretum with an X-Acto knife; and the shooting of homeless veteran Thomas Higginbotham, who was shot 10 times after he emerged from a Southeast Portland car wash with a knife.
The investigation questioned how the schizophrenic man “came to be held in Washington County Jail for months without treatment and then was committed to the Oregon State Hospital without legal authority even though the legal means existed.”
The advocacy group investigated the case of Donn Thomas Spinosa, 58, who was first charged in the killing of Kathleen T. Relay in 1997. He was found unable to aid and assist in his own defense; his charges were dismissed and he was civilly committed to the Oregon State Hospital.
Spinosa’s charges were refiled in 2010 after Washington County District Attorney Bob Hermann learned that the state hospital planned to release him. A judge again found him unable to aid and assist last year and returned him to the hospital on an order that Disability Rights Oregon says was not legal.
Among other findings, the advocacy group says in its report that Hermann’s re-indictment of Spinosa was “inhumane and wasteful”; laws and resources assuring Spinosa’s appropriate treatment were not used; and the state hospital made decisions “without clear standards, accountability or understanding of the treatment options available in jail” that led to Spinosa returning to jail after 14 years in the hospital.
The report concludes that Spinosa’s “unnecessary transfers back and forth between the state hospital and jail left him without adequate mental health treatment for long periods of time, with little or no justification.”
Responding to the report, Hermann said in an email, “This advocacy group has a role in the system and certainly a right to express its opinions. … In addition, advocacy and safety for the victims impacted by this murder remain a priority.”
Last October, when Judge Thomas Kohl dismissed the aggravated murder case against Spinosa, he signed an order for a “mental illness magistrate hold,” supposedly sending Spinosa to the state hospital indefinitely.
The order elicited ethics complaints in December, filed by retired Lane County Judge Jim Hargreaves. In complaints to the state bar against Hermann and defense attorney Robert Axford, Hargreaves said the law does not allow for the magistrate hold. He also filed a complaint with the judicial fitness commission against Kohl.
The state hospital asked Kohl to dismiss the order, which he did in May. In June, Spinosa’s civil commitment was renewed.
Disability Rights Oregon launched an investigation last year after reading about Spinosa’s case in The Oregonian. Bob Joondeph, the group’s executive director, said in December the organization wanted to know why a judge would skip the civil commitment process and impose an order that doesn’t exist within the law.
The investigation report concludes that Hermann, Axford and Kohl acted outside the law with the “mental illness magistrate hold.” The legislature makes law, the report says, and in Spinosa’s case, it was the attorneys and judge who “essentially created a new law that allows for a person with mental illness to be detained without the elements of due process.”
The investigation report lists several recommendations to address the problems the group identified.
“Changes are in order to assure that citizens are not punished for having a severe mental illness,” Joondeph said in a statement.
Among those, the group recommends that patients who have been previously found unlikely to regain capacity to assist in their own defense should not be re-indicted without further evaluation to see if they have regained ability.
The also group recommends a change in the law to permit notification to authorities when a patient who could be re-charged with a crime is being released from the hospital. But the law should not violate the defendant’s right to keep personal health information protected, the report says.
The report, which refers to Spinosa as “D.S.,” says Hermann and jail staff violated his privacy rights by providing information regarding his mental health and behavior in the state hospital.
Hermann defended the way Spinosa’s case has been handled, saying in an email, “The aggravated murder of Kathleen Relay remains an open case. Donn Spinosa remains the only suspect. Law enforcement continues to perform its role by keeping a close eye on Mr. Spinosa’s situation and progress to ensure that the public remains safe as well as Mr. Spinosa himself. … To date the public and Mr. Spinosa have remained safe.”
Eric Hossack is trying to regain the inner strength to live on his own again, and cope with a mental illness that led him to heroin addiction, homelessness and multiple suicide attempts.
But recovery isn’t so easy living at Harriet Court.
Sean M., a resident at Cascadia Housing's Harriet Court apartments for mentally ill tenants, in Southeast Portland, says fellow residents are running wild, with minimal oversight from Cascadia since Nancy Wagoner (right) left her post with the mental health nonprofit last fall.
The 16-unit apartment building near Southeast Portland’s Mt. Scott Community Center is reserved for mentally ill tenants who are transitioning to independent living. It’s one of 20 such apartment buildings in the county operated by Cascadia Housing, and one of two where the mental health nonprofit places sex offenders.
Hossack, who has borderline personality disorder but is not a sex offender, says nobody told him before he moved in that four sex offenders were living at Harriet Court. He installed a camera outside his dorm room to guard against a neighbor who he says is a rapist and a crackhead.
“People are going off their meds to the point where they are going crazy,” says Harriet Court resident P. Dawson, who is bipolar with post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder. Dawson estimates there are five drug addicts at Harriet Court — at least two of them openly selling illegal drugs — making her often scared to leave her room.
Fistfights and shouting matches are common in the hallways, says Sean M., who calls himself a high-functioning schizoaffective. “A lot of these people just kind of run wild,” he says.
The three residents say Cascadia Housing, an arm of mental health nonprofit Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, has sharply reduced staff visits to Harriet Court since last fall, largely leaving tenants to manage themselves.
Come nighttime, Harriet Court can seem like “Lord of the Flies” meets “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Cascadia officials say they lack funding to hire social workers or mental health professionals to make regular visits to Harriet Court and 10 of its other properties for mentally ill people living independently, which collectively house 130 tenants.
The dearth of residential services for these people on the bumpy road to recovery is just one of many holes in Oregon’s tattered mental health system.
To stretch its funds, Cascadia is relying more on its apartment property managers to address issues involving mentally ill tenants, says Jim Hlava, vice president of Cascadia Housing.
Hlava says he’d like to have a full-time mental health professional who could be a floater to visit the underserved sites and serve as “kind of a safety net.”
But Cascadia doesn’t have the money.
Hlava says he recently asked a property manager at another Cascadia apartment building to drop by regularly at Harriet Court, and he’s trying to do the same at other underserved properties.
Off-site services not enough
Eric Hossack, a mentally ill tenant at Harriet Court, says recovery is harder when illegal drug use, prostitution and violent behavior by fellow residents is tolerated at the Cascadia Housing project.
Nancy Wagoner, a former Cascadia case manager and alcohol and drug counselor, used to visit Harriet Court a few times a week to check in on tenants, along with other Cascadia properties. Wagoner, who left her post last September, says the nonprofit has since eliminated the service she provided, though she deems it critical.
“It’s setting people up for failure if you don’t provide the support,” Wagoner says.
Cascadia tenants in independent apartment units still can visit doctors or mental health clinics in the community. But a lot of mentally ill people are prone to stop taking their meds or halt visits to therapists, Wagoner says, which can send them into a tailspin. “They can’t get it together to get to a clinic, so it’s much easier to go to where they live,” Wagoner says. “If someone’s coming there regularly, they’re going to notice.”
With little on-site supervision, Wagoner says, less-assertive residents — many of them recovering drug addicts — can fall prey to drug dealers, addicts or other aggressive residents in their midst.
Jason Renaud, long-time mental health advocate with the Mental Health Association of Portland, says well-managed apartments for mentally ill tenants often are more civil than regular apartment buildings. But “buildings go bad” sometimes, says Renaud, who worked for Cascadia a decade ago. “There are times when management needs to be turned over, and there are times when resources need to be applied to get them back to civility.”
Cascadia houses 594 mentally ill people in 43 facilities. Those include: locked treatment centers; less-restrictive state-licensed facilities offering on-site mental health care; supported housing, which offers fewer on-site services; and independent housing, the final transition before people, ideally, move on their own.
By law, Cascadia can’t force the 321 people in its 20 independent living apartments to seek therapy or take prescribed medicines, Hlava says, and it’s not required to provide them any on-site human services.
Housing mentally ill people in independent living apartments is cost-effective and a good model for transitioning them to the outside world, says Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. But the model works best when residents retain individualized treatment plans and feel physically secure where they live, Joondeph says.
Providing housing for such people, absent other services, is far better than allowing them to become homeless, he says.
But some might benefit from residential professional services, he says.
State of neglect
Lori Bouferrache, a mentally ill tenant at Cascadia's Lone Pine Apartments in Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood, says some tenants need more oversight where they live.
Wagoner recently paid visits, with a reporter, to tenants in three Cascadia properties, and several greeted her like a long-lost friend, saying they haven’t heard much from Cascadia since she stopped making the rounds eight months ago.
Harriet Court has been neglected since she left, Hossack says, and hasn’t been cleaned regularly.
Hossack, who says he’s been off heroin for nine years, says his neighbor had a hooker at his room on April 14. “You could smell the crank coming out of his room,” he says. Hossack says he’s contacted Cascadia, but “they don’t call you back any more.”
Dawson says she’s only seen the new Cascadia property manager twice in seven months, and didn’t get a satisfactory response when Dawson complained about all the “mayhem” at Harriet Court. “She said, ‘I’m not trained in mental health, so I can’t help you with your problems,’ ” Dawson says.
Harriet Court has become a “party place,” Dawson says. “It was a lot better when we had a manager who came here on a regular basis.”
Sean M. concurs. “I don’t see them unless there’s a serious problem. In typical Cascadia fashion, they sweep things under the rug.”
Relying on property managers
Hlava says his property managers have been regularly visiting Harriet Court and other independent housing, but residents may not be aware of their presence or efforts to weed out problems.
Cascadia recognizes the benefit of sending trained professionals to visit tenants at its independent apartments, and patches together different approaches depending on available funding, Hlava says.
The agency obtained outside grants to pay for the equivalent of 2.5 residential service coordinators, who spend about 10 hours a week each at nine of Cascadia’s independent living apartments, Hlava says.
“Their job is to help people connect to needed resources in the community and to problem-solve them to be good tenants,” Hlava says.
At six other Cascadia independent housing apartments, the agency collects enough rent to have live-in property managers, who function much like regular apartment managers. Cascadia gives them a discount on their rent to oversee the properties, and hopes they’ll identify problems emerging with tenants, Hlava says.
Harriet Court is the largest of Cascadia’s five independent housing apartments that don’t have either on-site property managers or regular visits from people with human services training.
Hlava says all his property managers are compassionate people. However, they may be gone much of the time at work or elsewhere, and paid to be on site for only a limited number of hours each week. It’s unclear if property managers are equipped to deal with the unique needs of the mentally ill, many of whom have histories of substance abuse or criminality.
At Cascadia’s 17-unit Lone Pine Apartments in Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood, there’s one tenant “who needs help really bad,” says Lori Bouferrache, a resident who is bipolar and has depression, panic attacks, and hears voices. She says the elderly man doesn’t appear to bathe or ever clean his room, which emits a pungent odor into the hallway when his door is opened. Paramedics recently called to his room refused to enter because there was so much trash on the floor, and Bouferrache says she had to help get him dressed and into his wheelchair.
“If we had people checking on these people, there wouldn’t be that,” she says.
Leland Hale, a retired Cascadia maintenance worker who has lived at Lone Pine since 1995, says Cascadia’s attitude toward residents has changed. “They always seemed to care more about the clients,” Hale says. “Today it just seems like it’s about money.”
His wife, the on-site property manager, hasn’t even met Cascadia’s asset manager named to replace Wagoner last fall, Hale says.
Wagoner says she often lobbied Cascadia managers to provide more residential services. She recalls showing them evidence that Cascadia was violating a management agreement with the state agency that funded one of its buildings and obligated Cascadia to provide on-site services. The building is the 31-unit Lafayette Court apartments near Powell Boulevard and Southeast 87th Avenue.
Karen Tolvstad, policy and communications manager for the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, confirmed that a 1991 management agreement required on-site services. “They have to provide psychiatric rehabilitation services to their residents,” Tolvstad says.
Hlava says he doesn’t recall any such meetings, and that Lafayette Court tenants can obtain services as needed at community-based clinics.
Following the money
Oregon’s mental health funding woes led to Cascadia’s founding a decade ago, as a super-sized agency formed from the merger of several financially strapped programs. By 2008, it was the dominant mental health provider in Multnomah County, with 23,000 clients and a $60 million budget.
It nearly went bankrupt that year and was bailed out by the state and county, with some programs parceled off to healthier nonprofits. Now Cascadia has a $42 million budget and serves 12,000 clients a year, providing mental health clinics, group and individual counseling, outpatient services, and housing.
Before the 2008 financial implosion, Cascadia had a different approach to housing management, Hlava says. It employed people with human services backgrounds, like Wagoner, to regularly check in with residents in a portfolio of properties. During the meltdown it became clear the nonprofit was lax about maintaining its buildings and complying with federal, state and local regulatory agencies, Hlava says.
“Not getting that stuff done put us on ‘watch lists’ by our regulators and our bankers,” says Hlava, who moved over from the human services side four years ago to manage Cascadia Housing.
He began hiring professional real estate asset managers to oversee the properties. Hlava says he hopes to inculcate skills among those asset managers to work well with the mentally ill when they make site visits.
Now the properties are in better shape physically and financially, he says, and Cascadia Housing is in compliance with regulations.
Recent visits to three Cascadia properties showed all were attractively landscaped and well-maintained structurally.
Many Cascadia tenants are doing “fabulously” without any on-site services, Hlava says, which he sees as evidence the independent housing model is working. “People do find ways to take care of themselves,” he says.
But he acknowledges that funding is the reason tenants in some independent living units get residential services from social workers while others get little to none.
In today’s arcane, underfunded world, mental health services are provided where grants or other government funding is available. Lafayette Court once offered regular group therapy sessions on site. But Medicaid stopped reimbursing for that, Hlava says, so the program ended. When that site opened in the 1990s, there was a full-time staffer on site. Residents could buy into a low-cost meal program on site, and were taken on trips to the grocery store. Other facilities had half-time staff.
Those on-site staff are long gone, Hlava says, and that was a different era for mental health funding.
The U.S. Department of Justice says it has reached agreement with Oregon officials on a yearslong strategy for reforming the state’s community mental-health system, correspondence obtained by the Statesman Journal shows.
Federal officials said in a recent letter to the state Department of Justice that the agreement paves the way for changes that will “improve the lives of thousands of Oregonians living with mental illness.”
S. Amanda Marshall
If envisioned reforms materialize, that will resolve an ongoing federal investigation of Oregon’s mental-health system, without legal action against the state, wrote Jonathan Smith, chief of the Special Litigation Section of the federal Justice Department, and S. Amanda Marshall, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon.
The newspaper obtained the March 13 federal letter, and a March 23 state response letter, through Oregon’s public records law. The documents were released by the state Department of Justice.
As outlined in the federal letter, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, along with mental-health experts hired by the agency, will work cooperatively with the state to identify and plug gaps in the community-based system. Federal involvement in Oregon mental-health reforms could last for several years, the letter says.
“We are hopeful that our work together will address the gaps in, and improve the quality of, the community system for persons with mental illness during the coming years,” it says. “It is contemplated that this process will successfully resolve our investigation once an array of essential community services are in place and positive outcomes are being achieved on agreed-upon metrics.”
The community mental-health system provides services and support for tens of thousands of Oregonians, including housing, case management, crisis services, drop-in centers, job training, living skills training, peer support and more.
Mental-health advocates long have complained about inadequate state funding for community-based services. They have argued that the state spends too much money on mental hospitals, at the expense of the community system. Such concerns have fueled intense opposition to a state plan to build a new psychiatric hospital in Junction City.
The state spends more money in total on community mental-health programs than at the state hospital. The current two-year budget for community care is $434 million; for the state hospital it’s $339 million, although the hospital cares for about 600 patients compared to the thousands of patients in community programs.
Federal officials mentioned the funding controversy in their recent letter to the state.
“Throughout our investigation, we have met with a range of stakeholders, including consumers, advocates, providers and elected and public safety officials,” it says. “We have heard a consistent message that the state must invest more in critical community based services and that investments in institutions – including the proposed hospital at Junction City – are draining resources that should be used to keep people in their homes and in the communities.”
The feds vowed to “continue to meet with these stakeholders as the state implements its reform process to ensure that this agreed-upon process translates to real improvements in the lives of people with mental illness.”
The behind-the-scenes agreement between the federal Justice Department and the state comes nearly six years after federal investigators, in June 2006, launched an investigation into patient care and conditions at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
A scathing report issued by the federal agency in January 2008 detailed a multitude of flaws at Oregon’s main mental hospital. The report came as the state was gearing up to replace the outdated and unsafe institution with a new $280 million hospital. The new state hospital complex became fully operational this month.
Amid reform-minded changes at the Salem psychiatric hospital, the federal Justice Department notified Oregon officials in 2010 that it was widening the civil rights investigation to examine state-funded community mental-health programs and services.
Key to the expanded federal inquiry is whether the state is violating provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide mentally ill Oregonians with adequate community-based services.
Oregon’s push to overhaul health care, led by Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg, “provides a unique opportunity for the state and the Civil Rights Division to work together to address our concerns by embedding reform in the design of the health care system,” the federal letter says.
Under the agreement, specific reforms in the community mental health system will occur in stages during coming years, with desired outcomes spelled out in provider contracts, regulations and other documents, the letter says.
“Initially, the state has agreed to collect statewide system data on the services currently being provided and the people being served,” it says. “Working with the United States and our experts, this data will be transformed into outcome measures that will be included in plan documents, contracts and regulatory materials. We contemplate working cooperatively with the state for the next several years. In this unique context, we are optimistic that the iterative process to which we have agreed will improve the lives of thousands of Oregonians living with mental illness.”
In a March 23 response to the federal officials, Oregon lawyer John Dunbar, head of the Special Litigation Unit of the state Justice Department, expressed optimism about moving forward, along with some concerns.
“We agree that we have made tremendous progress,” he wrote. “We are appreciative of USDOJ’s outcome-driven approach, and we are glad to see you share our desire to avoid costly, wasteful litigation if possible.”
However, the state attorney also noted that he had “some substantive concerns” about the federal letter. For example, he said the document “appears to overstate the state’s commitments,” and he took issue with some of the reform metrics, or measurements, outlined by the feds.
“We should be able to straighten these issues out, but I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page so that misunderstandings don’t develop,” Dunbar wrote.
On Monday, two leaders of Oregon mental-health advocacy groups said they were encouraged by the accord on mental-health reforms.
“I think the overall message is that this is very encouraging and the timing is very good,” said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. “As in the spirit of health care reform, we’re hoping as advocates to have some input into this before it’s memorialized.
“It’s very much a breakthrough,” he added. “Interestingly enough, it’s a breakthrough that is very consistent with what Oregon is doing to reform its health care delivery system in the Medicaid world. So it may just be that the timing was right.”
Chris Bouneff, executive director of NAMI Oregon, a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said: “It will take some time to digest the spreadsheets of measurements to draw a conclusion. At a rough first glance, the progress seems positive.”
Bouneff said he was put off, though, by Oregon’s objections to some of the reform measurements sought by the feds.
“One glaring omission on Oregon’s side is the state’s unwillingness to accept certain process measures that are widely credited with improving outcomes,” he said.