What happened to Koben Henriksen

Koben Henriksen was the fifth person in a mental health crisis killed by officers of the Portland Police Bureau in 2019.

Prior to Henriksen, Portland officers killed Andre Gladen, Jeb Brock, David Downs, and Lane Martin. In the surrounding area, David Engebretson suicided in the custody of deputies of the Clackamas County Sheriff, Dante Halling was shot and wounded by deputies of the Washington County Sheriff, and Jason Livengood was shot and killed by a Hillsboro police officer. In February cops in Vancouver, Washington killed three people, all in mental health crisis – Carlos Hunter, Michael Pierce and 16 year old Clayton Joseph. Another ten or so people were killed by police around Oregon in 2019, maybe two dozen in Washington State.

This has been going on forever. People in crisis have been being killed and wounded by police for as long as anyone can remember. In 2018 PPB also killed five – John Elifritz, Chris Cannard, Patrick Kimmons, Samuel Rice, and Richard Barry. In 2017, just two. In 2016 one, in 2015 three, 2012, 2013, 2014 had two each, in 2011 just one, in 2010 five, in 2009 – none, in 2008 one, in 2007 there were two, and in 2006 they killed three, including James Chasse. That’s thirty-four people over a dozen or so years, and – this is important – every one of them were in a mental illness crisis of some form.

In 2014 city and legal leaders concluded the solution to reducing use of force against people with mental illness would be training and oversight for the cops. A pretext – a federal lawsuit called US DOJ v City of Portland – was developed which outlined over a hundred things the city could do to reduce use of force against people with mental illness. Now at the end of 2019, city and legal leaders say those things all been accomplished.

Except routine harm by police – including death – to people with mental illness hasn’t been eliminated or even reduced. There’s been reduction of use of force against people who don’t have mental illness, but that’s a different thing. Further, because cops said they were going to fix the problem and failed, people with mental illness and addiction trust Portland cops less. That means when a cop says stop! a kid might consider running. That means when an adult psychotic son threatens his mom, she might not call for help.

So it turns that out training wasn’t the solution and the settlement of the federal lawsuit is a failure, which further endangers people with mental illness and addiction. Now Portland cops have the best training in the nation, but training wasn’t what was needed. Something else is needed.

Oregon laws don’t match community values – so police who misuse force aren’t held accountable. District attorneys don’t have guidance or laws to prosecute police who misuse force, which results in impunity. Impunity is a poison which kills governments; as conscious concerned citizens, we can taste the poison. Antifa tastes the poison, everyone of color taste the poison, people with an interest in justice taste the poison. It’s making us sick.

Worse, our state’s system for treating mental illness and addiction is both damaged and mismanaged. We currently spend upwards of $250,000,000 on mental illness and addiction – and that’s probably half of what we need to spend to be effective. Our state health administrators haven’t a clue how to treat illness more effectively without more resources, much less get the 50%+ people who aren’t even getting treatment in the doors. We’ve got plans of what to do – but plans cost money which the legislature – voted in by people like you – don’t fund. So the cost of not having a plan – in money, time, and lives – will continue to increase.

Here are the nuts and bolts. The patchwork medical and ancillary service response to mental illness and addiction is in too many hands. A partial list includes, the city of Portland, Clark, Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties, their electeds and career staffers, the Joint Office of Homelessness and literally dozens of uncoordinated governmental and nonprofit housing and shelter organizations, the CCO Health Share and it’s insurer CareOregon, dozens of church groups, private insurers and hospitals, the Oregon Health Authority, the state mental health division and state hospitals, the eighteen or so police and sheriff’s departments and four jail systems each with their own health service, four uncoordinated court systems with four elected district attorneys and dozens of elected judges, four systems of parole offices, aging services, protective services, private and public guardianship services, thousands of private therapists, counselors, physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, and nurses, federal and state prisons, professional associations of licensed clinicians, dozens of ongoing committees and independent advocates, experts, and cranks. Literally tens of thousands of people busily working very hard, often at cross-purpose, without knowledge of each other or coordination, makes leadership impossible.

Further, Portland is missing several large components of an adequate service system which no single entity can provide alone. A short list of what’s missing includes ~

  • A single point of information, navigation, and accountability such has been developed in Denver & Boston.
  • Effective barrier-free medical treatment on demand, from detox to aftercare.
  • Sufficient and attractive respite and shelter for people with no where to go.
  • Alcohol and drug free transitional housing for people in early recovery (see our quick solution here).
  • Invest in city-wide 24/7 medical and mobile outreach a la CAHOOTS in Eugene – Portland Street Response isn’t that.
  • An equal alternative to Unity Center – the strongest lesson from Unity is we need many more inpatient psychiatric beds.

A ballpark cost for these missing components just for Portland? If they create a single point of accountability $200,000,000, if not twice or three times that amount. And why should we pay that? Look at Los Angeles and San Francisco. Years ago they didn’t provide services, gave up, and instituted authoritarian laws & rules which make now those cities inhuman. Seattle is giving up now. Portland is following those cities, and our community leaders are on the verge of giving up. And frankly many have given up. When they give up, Portland becomes inhumane, and we lose our spirit and our community. And on the way, we lose people like Koben Henriksen.