Jeff Cogen slams mayor’s “short-sighted” budget cuts to mental health crisis center

County Chair Jeff Cogen

County Chair Jeff Cogen

Mayor Charlie Hales stunned Multnomah County officials Tuesday when he announced that the city would no longer pay its share of a 16-bed secure mental health treatment center that opened two years ago after the death of James P. Chasse Jr.

Portland police haven’t taken anyone to the Crisis Assessment Treatment Center despite a much-celebrated city-county agreement signed in 2011 that called for each to pay 20 percent, or $634,000, of the center’s $3.5 million operating costs. The state picks up the rest. Since the center’s opening in June 2011, 1,297 people have been treated there.

Hales said the city should fund public safety services, not public health programs.

“CATC is a mental health facility, plain and simple,” Hales said. “It’s not where police officers can drop people off.”County Chairman Jeff Cogen called the mayor’s budget recommendation “short-sighted” and a mistake. It will mean the county-run center must reduce its beds to 11 and serve about 200 fewer people a year — some of whom will undoubtedly come into contact with police on the street, he said.

The center opened in June 2011 off Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in response to the 2006 death of Chasse, 42, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and died in police custody.

In addition to the city and county commitment, the Portland Development Commission provided $2 million for development and the state contributed $1 million to renovate the second floor of the David P. Hooper Sobering Center for the new center.

Its staff provides patients up to 14 days of assessment and treatment and develops a treatment plan for them after they leave the center.

“Going there means they can get stabilized in a humane and cost-efficient way,” Cogen said. “The genesis of this was James Chasse’s death.”

He said he was perplexed by the mayor’s proposal, considering a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found Portland police have a pattern of using excessive force against people with mental illness.

He also pointed to the city’s proposed $2.3 million settlement with a man suffering from mental illness shot by a Portland officer two years ago.

That alone is “four times the amount the city spends for this center,” Cogen said.

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said the memorandum of understanding between the city and county on the center’s operation has “a number of barriers” that make it prohibitive for police to take people there but declined to identify them.

Capt. Sara Westbrook, tapped to lead the Police Bureau’s new Behavioral Health Unit, said the county’s center “has never been on police radar.” The open-floor plan makes it unsuitable to drop off someone in crisis and a danger to themselves, she said.

“It’s a valuable service,” said Lt. Cliff Bacigalupi, who is overseeing the creation of a new police Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team of officers. “It just wasn’t a good fit for us.”

For years, Portland police have lamented the 2003 closing of the county-sponsored Crisis Triage Center at Providence Medical Center, where officers could drop off someone they encountered during a call who needed immediate mental health care. But the triage center quickly became overrun with patients. It also provided no treatment once people left. County budget cuts closed the triage center.

Cogen said the newer Crisis Assessment Treatment Center was never intended to be a “drop-off” center.” It’s designed for people suffering a mental health crisis who might hurt themselves or others. To be admitted, a person must first undergo an assessment at a hospital, a walk-in clinic or in the field by a mental health worker, such as a Project Respond staffer.

“The police, for some reason, don’t want to go through that step. They’d like a place they can go and dump people,” Cogen said. “The idea that it doesn’t deserve city support because it’s not that, even when it was never supposed to be, is preposterous.”