On August 17 we received your email message inviting citizens to apply for the Portland Police Bureau’s Training Advisory Council. While the general thrust of your outreach is commendable, and police training is a particular focus of ours, we did not pass this message on to our supporters. Instead, we posted it to our website — with a comment discouraging representatives of our community from applying.
Let us tell you why.
Community representation is inherently incompatible with the council’s requirement to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The role of a community representative includes appropriate polling of the community for opinions about issues at hand; engaging at civil meetings with other equally resourced and skilled community representatives; skillfully relaying collected opinions to decision-makers; absorbing the responses to those collected opinions; and returning those responses accurately to their community for consideration and future response.
These tasks of a community representative are not possible to complete when speech is constrained.
Our organization is concerned for the welfare of persons with mental illness, who are routinely harmed by public and private institutions, including police bureaus. In the past year, Portland Police Bureau officers shot and killed two persons with mental illness: Brad Morgan, who was shot and bled to death while talking to a 911 operator; and Billy Simms, who was shot and bled to death after driving away from a police officer. And two is a comparatively low number. However, seven other persons around the state of Oregon were also killed by police officers. And as the leading police bureau in the state, the example of the PPB is followed by others.
- Michael Evans was killed by Gladstone police officer Steve Mixson just two weeks ago. Michael was known by the Gladstone police as a person with a mental illness. We don’t know the facts of his death yet.
- Scott Chappell, a decorated veteran of Kosovo and Afghanistan, was killed by police officers in Southern Oregon using a Taser in June. He had been in treatment for PTSD and had pending charges for possession.
- Jeffery Anderson was shot by Washington County deputies in June. An alcoholic who suffered from depression, Anderson had pointed a rifle at his wife earlier in the day.
- Robert Fox was shot and killed by Washington County Deputy Brian McLeod in June. He had been in treatment for depression, and pointed a rifle at the deputy.
- Larry McKinney was drunk when two Fairview police officers came to his mother’s home to ask him to leave. The three had fought the night before. According to officers, McKinney had a kitchen knife and was within 21 feet, making him a lethal danger. They killed him in front of his parents.
- We don’t know enough about what happened to Jimmy Georgeson or Elias Ruiz. Both were killed by Medford police, Jimmy in January and Elias in March. We’ve contacted their families who described two alike young men: charismatic, wild and unable to back down. Both had diagnoses of mental illness.
We’ve surveyed the public record back to 1970 and found over 270 persons killed by local area police officers and deputies. From what we can tell, most if not all of them were in a mental health crisis.
This is not a Portland-only problem. We’re certain a survey of almost any American city would find a similar pattern. Why does it seem acute today? Because mental illness – and the routine harm which too often comes to those who have it – goes unreported by most media.
Training is a possible solution. Removing police officers who routinely harm persons with mental illness, like Christopher Humphreys, or police officers who themselves are impaired, is probably a more successful – and immediate – strategy.
But because this city, county, state, nation and world routinely ignore the treatment and rights of persons with mental illness, it’s likely this pattern of routine harm will continue.
We would like to have a representative join the PPB Training Council. But our community needs to know what that council is doing – before they do it. We would join because how the PPB leads other Oregon police departments will follow. Your leadership – in the right direction – will be followed by others.
Drop the requirement for the non-disclosure agreement to apply for the PPB Training Council, and we can join you.