Mayor Responds to Questions on Chasse Case

from the Portland Mercury

Emergency Response – Mayor Responds to Questions on Chasse Case

Mayor Tom Potter responded in writing on Monday, November 5, to a list of 28 “unanswered questions” given to his communications director outside city hall on the one-year anniversary of the death of James Philip Chasse Jr. two months ago.

The questions, collated by the Mental Health Association of Portland (MHA) and delivered on September 17, were broad in their scope—ranging from asking what recommendations have been implemented by the mayor’s mental health initiative since it started work in January, to how Portlanders can explain Chasse’s death to their children.

Potter began his four-page response by declining to discuss the actions of individual officers or parties to the lawsuit filed by Chasse’s family, which is still ongoing. Then he listed 11 “important actions” resulting from his mental health initiative.

Those include $290,000 of extra funding for Cascadia’s Project Respond, to create a dedicated unit to work with cops on calls involving mental illness; mandatory crisis intervention training for all cops coordinated by a mental health professional—Potter said around 25 percent of officers have now completed the training; and the expansion of a Voluntary Substance Abuse Treatment program to help those with dual diagnosis into long-term housing and treatment.

“When you ask who is responsible and how do we hold them accountable, I look at society as being responsible for not funding proper mental health services,” Potter wrote. “And instead, leaving it to police officers to respond.”

“We’re pretty happy with the letter,” says Jason Renaud of MHA, who thinks Potter is taking his organization’s concerns seriously. “I’m glad he took the time to write it and list the city’s accomplishments, and that he didn’t blow us off.”

Nevertheless, Potter’s letter included five measures beyond his jurisdiction—instead, they’re up to the cash-strapped folks at Multnomah County. They include mental health screening for people being booked into jail, expansion of the so-called “Treatment Not Punishment” program, a court advocate program for those with mental illness, and most controversially, the establishment of a crisis triage center with 16 beds.

Last week, the Mercury reported that Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler appears to be letting the crisis triage center slip down his list of funding priorities [“Less Than a Crisis?” News, Nov 1]. While Wheeler denies this is the case, he told the Mercury he may not be able to secure funding for it until 2010, or November 2008 at the very earliest.

As a result, the MHA wrote to Wheeler last Thursday, November 1, asking him to speak at a public meeting about mental illness, in a question-and-answer format, to address some unanswered questions of his own. Wheeler has yet to respond and could not be reached by the Mercury for comment by press time.

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