Portland City Council should rebuild community trust by championing mental-health crisis center

From the Oregonian, October 31, 2014

The word “trust” kept coming up in a Portland City Council hearing last week, but none of the commissioners should feel flattered.

Speaker after speaker addressed the city council, pleading with them not to appeal a federal judge’s authority over the city’s police-reforms settlement. For too long, they said, the city of Portland pushed aside complaints about its police force until the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and sued over its pattern or practice of excessive force against those with mental illness.

As one speaker put it bluntly, the council “does not have the trust of the community.” A judge’s oversight, several said, represents the best chance to keep the city honest.

The strong words did not deter the four commissioners present. (Commissioner Nick Fish was out with a scheduling conflict.) They voted unanimously to appeal U.S. District Judge Michael Simon’s order calling for periodic hearings on the city’s progress in meeting the police-reforms settlement with the DOJ.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz insisted it’s the city council’s responsibility to ensure the settlement terms are met. “It’s not whether the judge says it’s done,” she said. “It’s whether the community says it’s done.

The community should hold Fritz and her colleagues to their word. And perhaps one way the public can test commissioners’ commitment is to watch for the creation of a treatment drop-off center, or an alternative, for those experiencing a mental health crisis. This item, included in the DOJ settlement, is an “aspirational” term of the agreement, meaning there’s no violation if it doesn’t get done. The outcome will show whether commissioners aspire to meet the spirit as well as the letter of the settlement.

Read the remainder of this unsigned editorial from the Oregonian here.