Portland Police Chief Mike Reese presented a report to the Downtown Public Safety Action Committee on Feb. 14th, defending his bureau’s record in dealing with suicidal people. So far, there are seven stories in the local media, included in full in this post – use the following Links to go to each section.
KGW TV Video: MHAP’s own Jason Renaud in the KGW TV Hot Box
Portland Mercury: A Chief’s Consistent Plea
Oregonian Editorial: Widening the Lens on ‘Suicide by Cop’
Some Background Information:
Portland Chief Mike Reese Defends Use of Force, Says Officers Responding to Twice as Many Suicide Calls
Portland Police Chief Mike Reese this morning went on the offensive, defending his officers use of force as he presented a report to a downtown public safety group about the increasing number of suicidal calls to police in the city.
“We’re trying to do good in a very broken system,” Reese said, speaking in the Rose Room of City Hall.
The chief and Sgt. Greg Stewart pointed out the city police are responding to nearly double the number of calls involving either someone who is attempting suicide, threatening suicide or has completed suicide since 2001.
In 2011, police took 1200 such calls, compared to 630 in 2001, the bureau’s report said. In 2011, police took 1100 people into protective custody. The actual number of suicides in Multnomah County between 2001 and 2009 did not rise as dramatically – 111 in 2009, compared to 83 in 2001.
“When officers get there quickly, we save a lot of lives,” Reese said.
The chief also presented bar graphs that showed a decline in police use of force between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the bureau data shows police used force in less than .3 percent of all contacts and less than 4 percent of all arrests.
“One of the things we’ve done very well over the last few years is manage force,” Reese said.
Reese’s and the bureau’s presentation comes as a Multnomah County grand jury is reviewing the latest officer-involved fatal shooting of Brad Lee Morgan, a 21-year-old man who was located atop a downtown parking garage after he had called 9-1-1 and threatened to jump. Police said a sergeant and officer fired multiple shots after Morgan pulled out what turned out to be a fake black handgun. Morgan died from a single gunshot to the head.
It also follows the city’s $1.2 million settlement of a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed African American man who was fatally shot in the back by police in Jan. 29, 2010. Campbell was described as suicidal and distraught over his brother’s death that day. The family’s attorney pointed out a “disconnect” between the chief’s findings that the shooting violated policy, and 11 training officers who were ready to testify that Officer Ronald Frashour acted as trained.
Two assistant Oregon U.S. attorneys who are working with federal justice department officials attended the meeting. Since June, the federal authorities have been examining if the police bureau engages in a pattern of excessive force, particularly when dealing with people in a mental health crisis.
The presentation echoed a similar address Reese gave to the same group – the Downtown Public Safety Action Committee – in March, following an unusual spate of police officer-involved shootings between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 2, 2011. During that time, police shot 8 men.
This morning, Reese, crime analyst Stewart, and Leisbeth Gerritsen, the bureau’s civilian mental health professional who coordinates the bureau’s crisis intervention training, highlighted the faltering safety net for people suffering from mental illness — from the closure of the 24-hour Crisis Triage Center to the lack of care for the uninsured and an inadequate voluntary commitment process.
If there isn’t a system of care in place to catch people suffering a mental health crisis, it’s no surprise that they’re going to have multiple contacts with police, Gerritsen said.
Derald Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, said the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is continuing to examine how to provide better care for people with mental illness to reduce their contacts with law enforcement.
“The problem is with the system that fails to provide the supportive preventive services,” Walker said.
When asked what the best national model is on how law enforcement should approach someone who is suicidal and armed, there were few answers.
The chief reiterated his support for crisis intervention training for all officers, calling it a “core competency every officer needs to have.” Reese also said he continued to support the bureau’s use of its single mobile crisis unit that focuses on people with frequent police contacts and officers’ ongoing relationships with social service providers.
Walker said the best way to approach someone who is suicidal is to take your time, be empathetic and supportive, and help the person solve their problems and recognize there are other options than taking their life. But he said that when someone is suicidal and under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it’s a “highly unpredictable situation.”
Reese also told the group that the bureau is in the process of putting in a place a new policy that requires sergeants to immediately respond to scenes where officers use force and begin investigations. This was a policy that the federal Department of Justice had recommended, Reese has said.
What the chief did not share is that the new policy is on hold as the Portland Police Association, the union that represents sergeants, has filed a grievance, arguing that such new duties for sergeants need to be negotiated.
The chief said the bureau has placed a “new inspector” in its Professional Services Division to primarily analyze all officer use of force data within the bureau after federal justice officials identified that gap in the bureau.
“They pointed out to us we don’t have one single person tracking all use of force,” Reese said.
The fatal shooting of a man threatening “suicide by cop” last month has prompted another review of how Portland police handle suicide calls.
Mayor Sam Adams, police Chief Michael Reese and other city officials presented a draft report Tuesday to the public safety action committee.
The number of suicide calls has nearly doubled since 2001. The review also showed that the use of force by police has declined over the last four years.
On January 25th police responded to a call of a suicidal man in downtown Portland. The call ended in the death of Brad Lee Morgan who was armed with a replica handgun.
Reese said every officer on the street goes through crisis intervention training and the bureau has a mobile crisis unit that can respond to suicide calls. He said the review also found that the use of force by police has declined over the last four years.
Jason Renaud, with the Mental Health Association of Portland, issued a statement to the media following the police press conference Tuesday. He said the state’s mental health crisis has developed as a result of “decades of financial cuts” and lack of state, city and county support.
“Mental illness is a public health issue – not a public safety issue. The police want to be part of the solution, but they are not suited to be an entire response to the problem,” Renaud said. “What’s missing are robust, welcoming and engaging community mental health and addiction services.”
Renaud also encouraged friends and family members of people with mental illnesses to prepare for crisis and develop their own plans for recovery that don’t involve police unless a person is dangerous to others.
“Our comment for the general public is if you want this to change, demand it from your political leadership,” he said.
The Portland Police Bureau is dealing with a drastic increase in the number of suicide calls.
Between 2001 and 2011, suicide calls to officials in the city of Portland grew from 630 calls to 1,200.
In a meeting with the Downtown Public Safety Action Committee on Tuesday, Chief Mike Reese and several mental health professionals made a presentation on suicide, the mental health system and police contact with people in crisis.
The most recent officer-involved shooting in Portland happened on Jan. 25, when police say a man was threatening to jump from a downtown parking garage.
Before mental health officials arrived, police say the man pulled out what they now know is a fake gun, and an officer fired and killed the man.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Reese said that the rise in the number of suicide calls may be due to fewer mental health and addiction services.
He also said that all officers have been through Crisis Intervention Training and the bureau has done a good job managing force in all situations.
“We use force in less than 4 percent of all arrests, and only in a quarter of a percent of all contacts,” said Reese.
“We’re trying to get people out of the criminal justice system and into appropriate care,” Reese explained.
Reese said the bureau will continue to work with other safety partners and mental health providers to explore additional options in how they help people in dealing with a mental health crisis.
Portland Police say the number of calls they receive regarding suicides and mentally ill people have increased 90 percent since 2001.
Mayor Sam Adams called for a review of suicide calls after Brad Morgan was shot by officers last month. He was suicidal and carrying a replica handgun.
The review found police deal with an average of three suicide calls each day.
Police chief Mike Reese says officers usually arrive in time and save lives. But he stressed, five crisis centers and hospital clinics for mentally ill people have closed since 2001 and the police are increasingly coming into contact with disturbed people.
Derald Walker, CEO of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, thanked police for drawing attention to the issue.
“In an ideal world where there are adequate resources in a community, police officers should not be the first responders to someone who is in a psychiatric crisis,” Walker said.
The Mental Health Association of Portland said what the community is missing is robust and welcoming mental health and addiction services.
HERE’S THE THING about Police Chief Mike Reese — he’s consistent. Very consistent. Every time his police officers shoot and/or kill someone in the throes of a mental health crisis, he reliably does several things:
First, he defends his troops. Then he talks about some kind of policy change the bureau is making or exploring, either directly in response to the latest tragedy or just generally. And finally, he firmly and persuasively lays serious blame at the feet of a starved mental health system that’s forced his officers to add the unwelcome role of counselor to their usual gig as peacekeeper.
But this month, after cops shot Bradley Morgan — a suicidal man who waved a realistic replica handgun—Reese tweaked the usual pitch. And maybe it’s because federal investigators are looking at whether his bureau has a pattern of inappropriately using force against the mentally ill.
He gathered some damning statistics on suicides (calls to police have doubled since 2001, even though the actual suicide rate has held relatively steady), mental illness (commitment “holds” have nearly doubled since 1998), and treatment (beds and funding have dropped) and bundled them in a report.
Then he gathered a coterie of service providers and mental health experts to help make his point:
We’re adapting as much as we can, as fast as we can, but the problem is way bigger than the police bureau.
The unveiling came at the Tuesday, February 14, meeting of the Downtown Public Safety Action Committee, a group of business leaders, social services advocates, and government officials.
Sounding a lot like the mayoral candidate he almost was, Reese implored the room to help with problems like unemployment, homelessness, a lack of treatment facilities, and inadequate access to health insurance.
“Those are things all of us in this community have to own,” he said.
Reese is right, of course. It’s good the police bureau is doing things like appointing a full-time inspector to review cops who use force. It’s good crisis training is now a “core” training element for officers.
But what good is any of it if there isn’t a triage center where officers can hand off someone in crisis, or if there isn’t money for preventative care that can keep someone from going off the deep end.
The response was heartening. “What could we lobby for?” asked Steve Trujillo, the committee’s co-chair.
But Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland says even that help won’t be enough.
Cops will never be fully out of the equation, he says, but minimizing their role — making sure preventive care looms larger than public safety — requires a higher power.
“This will take the Legislature,” he says, “the voters. Voters who can vote in people who won’t cut the safety net.”
Or, maybe, voters who might finally approve a ballot measure dedicated to mental health treatment. Because eventually, the sheer number of crisis calls works against cops. They’ll eventually end up shooting someone.
On Tuesday, Police Chief Mike Reese effectively implored the community to widen its lens. Suicide calls are on the upswing, and police are taking the brunt of these calls. A narrow focus on what police can and should do differently at a scene to avert a “suicide by cop” is extremely important, of course.
But zooming in on that moment, and that moment alone, misses the chances for prevention that arise long before a fatal confrontation.
Right now, a Multnomah County grand jury is examining the death of Brad Lee Morgan, 21. Police fatally shot Morgan Jan. 25 after he called 9-1-1, threatened to commit suicide by cop and then pointed a fake gun at officers at the scene.
The grand jury, no doubt, will help to clear up some of the fairly narrow questions about what happened that night. Yet what needs to take place, as well, is a much broader and deeper conversation about what people who are concerned about a family member in crisis can do to intervene.
It may sound simple, but one of the keys is to mention “suicide.” Suicide expert Leslie Storm, with Oregon Partnership, says people are frightened to ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” for fear of triggering it or making the possibility sound more real. But, “by bringing it up,” she says, “you’re breaking the ice.”
Last year, nearly 20,000 calls came in to Oregon Partnership’s suicide prevention hotline (most from Oregon, but some from Idaho and eastern Washington). Remarkably, a crisis worker was able to defuse the situation on the phone 99 percent of the time, Storm said. Only 1 percent of the calls required the follow-up of calling 9-1-1.
Suicide calls to Portland police have roughly doubled since 2001, though, going from 630 to 1,200. (These are calls concerning people who have committed it, are attempting it or are threatening to do so.) Suicides in Multnomah County have increased, too, going from 83 in 2001 to 111 in 2009.
In Oregon, suicide rates have increased over the past decade, as well, according to state health officer Mel Kohn, who is involved in national efforts to boost suicide prevention. Oregon had 678 suicides in 2010, Kohn said, which is more than double the number of deaths from car crashes.
Keeping a gun and alcohol away from a suicidal person can be crucial, too, if it’s possible to do so, because the combination is often lethal. “Suicide is a major national public health problem,” said Portland State professor Mark Kaplan, who just landed a $953,459 grant to study the link between suicide and alcohol. “It results in more than 30,000 deaths each year and is the 10th leading overall cause of death in this country.”
It’s right to focus on how the front-line responders, the police, could or should have behaved when they confront a distraught person, like Morgan. It’s right, too, to do as the chief was implicitly suggesting Tuesday — to figure out how the city, county and state can do a better job of bolstering services for the distraught and others in crisis.
No matter what kind of services we provide, though, ultimately, the timely intervention of a family member or friend will be vital. So, yes, by all means, revisit final minutes. Just don’t forget to examine hours, days and weeks, too — what could have been done differently by everyone involved to avert such a death.