Comments to Portland City Council

Made September 30 2009, by Jason Renaud – volunteer board secretary

The mission of the Mental Health Association of Portland is to help persons with mental illness speak up and speak out, a community which asks you to rebuild the respect and trust damaged between the Portland Police Bureau and persons with mental illness.

I’d like to talk about impunity, when a person or an institution has been exempted from punishment.

Impunity is a corrosive to public administration, and extremely hard for partisans to distinguish from righteousness, or understand the damage it causes. It occurs when there is a wide variance between what is found just, and what is believed true.

The action which enables impunity to flourish is when persons in positions of authority claim due process equals justice, and somehow justice always prevails.

Our organization and thousands of people in Portland believe injustice has prevailed, that a fair hearing on what happened to James Chasse has not occurred.

The final opportunity for intervention was a internal review of the officer’s actions, and a decision whether those actions were within the policy of the police bureau. After three years the bureau distributed a press release citing reasons their review was late. A minor technicality was found, so minor punishment may occur.

What’s occurred is impunity. The message delivered is a brutal beating and death of a person with a mental illness, even one with caregivers, friends, family, a home, a clean record, is acceptable within the Portland Police Bureau.

It should be unacceptable to you. Impunity undermines and dissolves the most important tools police officers need – trust and respect.

Here are actions which can rebuild trust and respect.

1. Release the full internal investigation of what happened to James Chasse – not a press release
2. Move the three officers involved with the death of James Chasse – Christopher Humphrey, Kyle Nice and Bret Burton – off patrol duty
3. Make a goal to reducing the use of Tasers on persons with mental illness by 50% per year for the next five years
4. Reopen the Chief’s Forum
5. Form a joint effort by local governments and local police bureaus with mental health advocates to seek full funding for mental health services from the state legislature
6. Open a sincere, staffed and ongoing public meeting between police senior staff and persons with mental illness
7. Release the Crisis Intervention Team curriculum to public inspection, release data about police encounters with persons with mental illness

The right response to impunity comes from the top down. It’s your responsibility to act.