Portland Police Chief Mike Reese talked today about his priorities and challenges ahead as he nears his one-year mark as chief.Speaking to the City Club’s Friday Forum, Reese identified his four goals as top cop of the city’s 981-member force: Maintain public safety; rebuild community trust in police; create a positive work environment with clear expectations for officers, professional growth opportunities and police accountability; and serve as a good fiscal steward of city resources.
LISTEN – New Directions for Portland’s Police Bureau, City Club of Portland
READ – Improving the Delivery of Mental Health Services in Multnomah County (PDF), City Club of Portland
In his talk called, “New Directions for Portland’s Police Bureau,” he called the bureau a “lean” agency, meaning police can’t investigate some crimes, such as traffic accidents without injuries or frauds involving less than $10,000.
“If we had the same staffing ratio as Seattle, we’d have 300 more officers in our department,” Reese said.
But he also noted that the crime rate in Portland is down significantly — at levels not seen since 1967.
In response to a question, he said the bureau continues to work to attract minority officers. With 79 officers eligible to retire in July and another large group expected to retire in June 2012, he said the city has a unique chance to “remake the face of the Portland Police Bureau.”
He pledged his commitment to holding officers accountable for missteps and cited as examples the firing of Officer Ronald Frashour in the fatal shooting of Aaron Campbell and the discipline of other officers in the incident.
“Unfortunately they made mistakes, and one officer lost his job,” Reese said. “We have to listen and we have to be responsive to the needs of the community.”
If officers do their best and follow policy, but the outcome isn’t what anyone would want, the chief said he’s still going to support his officers.
If bureau policy or training is out of line with community expectations, the chief said it’s his responsibility to make changes.
The chief implored everyone in the community to work to fix what he called a broken mental health system.
“We all own this problem, not just the police officers,” Reese said, adding that people can’t walk a block in Portland without seeing someone who is either in emotional or mental health crisis.
Police responded to 28,000 calls last year involving someone with a mental illness, he said. Police placed 1,100 people on civil holds, meaning officers took people with a mental health issue to an emergency room.
“It’s overwhelming our system. That’s a lot of opportunities for failure,” Reese said.
He said the majority of people shot by Portland police since January 2010 “were flying under the mental health services’ radar.”
He defended the bureau’s push to obtain alternative less-lethal Taser weapons, and praised the bureau’s single mobile crisis unit, which pairs an officer with a Project Respond crisis worker.
Officer Christopher Burley, whom the chief asked to stand during his address, has served as the bureau mobile crisis officer this year, but is returning to the Gang Enforcement Team. Officer Herbert Miller has been selected to replace him.
In closing, Reese spoke of the Dec. 27 police shooting of Marcus Lagozzino after his parents called police to their Southwest Portland home. Their son had assaulted the couple, and the father had to physically pick up Lagozzino and throw him out of their house. The parents called 9-1-1 because they were “deathly afraid” their son would harm a neighbor or passer-by, Reese said.
Lagozzino ran at officers with a machete over his head when he saw them approaching about 100 feet from the home, he said. An officer fired four AR-15 rifle rounds when a Taser wouldn’t stop Lagozzino.
“He’s a neighbor of mine, and I met with his parents,” Reese said, also a Southwest Portland resident.
Lagozzino was wounded, and later booked into jail after his hospitalization. A judge released him to a residential treatment facility as the charges are pending.
The chief described Lagozzino as “back out in the community.”
“There’s really very little help for them or others — given the state of our mental health system,” the chief said.