The City of Portland stands accused of violating The People’s civil rights. The DoJ pivoted away from racial profiling and unconstitutional surveillance, to narrow any required remedy to those “perceived to be in mental health crisis.”
On Wednesday, City Council will entertain a second reading of a no-bid contract Chief Reese wishes to re-extend to Project Respond. Despite violent police attacks upon the mentally ill – described in the 2-minute audio clip above, or here – City Council will not seek changes to this long-running practice. (Read pp. 12, 13, 15 & 17-18 of the DoJ Findings, to learn of ‘substantial’ 2010 intrusions on individual’s Fourth Amendment rights” … in some cases with Project Respond on-scene and acting in their full capacity.)
From contract language describing the Scope of Work:
“Provide intervention skills to persons who may be in a mental or emotional crisis.”
We’d prefer language clarifying intervention skills would be provided officers who’ve been abusing folks in crisis … and that healing services are to be provided their victims. Maybe victims will get skills to intervene on the abuse they’ve been taking when in the company of Project Respond Clinicians. Maybe next year City leaders will allocate a quarter million dollars to providing nursing skills to victims.
That this language remains after a first reading may indicate the five Portland Commissioners simply rubber stamp whatever Chief Reese submits.
Legal language is such a prickly thing. Way beyond our pay grade. But we’ll italicize another set of concerns:
Patrol officer/clinician teams will work to identify and help persons who repeatedly use police services (primarily due to mental or emotional health issues) and work proactively intervene to avoid future crises.
Right off the bat, social justice advocates want the term ‘primarily’ legally defined … or removed.
Using health care providers and a ‘Raintree database’ to “help the Police Bureau track [and bill] persons with frequent Police contact” should raise red flags to anyone concerned with civil rights protections. From our attempts to pry open police Gang Designation record keeping, we know there is no oversight as to who police target, or any viable criteria for being tracked; no auditing will discern how those (who are sufficiently competent) succeed in appealing an incorrect or expired designation.
From an ally who’s spent long years analyzing city policy on mental health: “Here’s the legal bottom line – no medical information should be included in any police records of any sort. None. Reese should not have access to medical records of any sort ever. Reese’s ‘proactive intervention’ is literally [targeting] thought crime.”
With the public invited to a deliberative process, the City of Portland might be prompted to proactively engage with state forensic services who maintain a list of folks deemed unable to consent to searches, or otherwise participate on a level playing field with police. Instead of focusing on who the Chief wants listed, it might be time to integrate his practices with the Police Bureau’s largely unimplemented Disability Accommodation Registry, to which our attention was diverted after police were seen beating and electro-shocking an autistic child in 2007.
It’s time the City begins an integrated approach to protecting those they’ve illegally beaten, shocked and killed. It’s time Project Respond Clinicians be required to report abuse they witness … to an independent monitor.
Absent from the contract are hours of operation. One of the drawbacks is that people experiencing crisis have not obliged service providers by needing clinicians during normal business hours. Now would be the time to remedy what the public has sought for years: deliver services when they are in demand.
Absent from the contract are concerns DoJ investigators reported about the way the City has been using Project Respond. “The City should consider encouraging direct calls to Project Respond and permitting Project Respond to decide which calls to take and which to refer to the police.” (Pg. 22) The DoJ could explain what they meant by “The program’s benefits are limited, however, because the Mobile Crisis Unit is not intended to be called in an actual crisis situation.” (Pg. 6.)
With no one managing Chief Reese, we realize the Rubber Stamp Gang once again abdicates opportunity to establish results-based criteria. As when contracting for psychological evaluation services, City Council lets contracts roll over year after year. Where are the objectives, or any benchmarks for evaluating program effectiveness?
Last year the Mental Health Association of Portland reasoned “All police officers should be equally able to engage and help persons who are impaired by mental illness or addiction – and held equally accountable.” Lacking benchmarks, or remedial feedback loops, police accountability remains remains in a limbo where the current police chief and city council like to keep it.
Consult Hardesty has for a long time wanted the police bureau to establish cultural competency. A member of the Portland Disability Rights Commission explains, “We know from stats, it’s likely to be disproportionate black and brown persons they will serve. Will the team reflect that? Will it be culturally competent?” As police purportedly begin to respect one constitutionally protected class of people, it only seems humane that they prepare to improve their understanding of – and relationships with – cultural groups they may not have been caught abusing.
Where does leadership come from?
We say Chief Reese is winning a lopsided battle.
Mayor Adams left office without fulfilling his agreement to eliminate insular barriers that keep the public from advocating broader needs and perspectives on police advisory boards. Background checks and hand-picking participants is quite different from open recruiting, or requesting service from members of professional associations. But when city leaders combine confidentiality agreements with blank reporting mechanisms, only the lack of results explains the role these boards play.
We wouldn’t expect the Mayor’s Police Policy Director to expand any conversation beyond Chief Reese’s expressed needs. Nine-year veteran Officer Deanna Wesson-Mitchell is oriented toward the reporting structure she’ll eventually return to. Neither Wesson-Mitchell nor the moribund Community Police Relations Committee from which she emerged are expected to illuminate victims’ needs. They will not convene interest groups or foster broad conversation designed to improve contracting for these services.
Particularly galling is failure to detail recommendations from a white paper prepared by Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman in 2010. They’d only need one other vote to have City Council adopt this recommendation: “Build upon best-practice models in North America to define a system in which partner police officers and mental health professionals work in tandem …” Four years on, we’d expect those ‘best practices’ to have been identified, and now be detailed before re-letting a boilerplate contract for services.
We suspect, as with the extension of the police union contract, Portland City Council is hustling to cement existing practices before a Federal Settlement Agreement forces them to implement a Community Oversight and Advisory Board … to actually take responsibility for caring about the most vulnerable among us.
The proposed plea deal calls for expanded peer services and pursuing ‘tele-psychiatry’ “to provide direct care” or support evaluations in “the provision of appropriate services to an individual in crisis.” The DoJ has for so long engaged in secret negotiations, they forgot to come out of the shadows to advocate for reforms they’ve negotiated.
In 2010, Fritz and Saltzman reported “meaningful, constructive partnerships between police officers, City and County bureaus … hospitals, community organizations, and mental health care consumers” a viable recommendation. Will they be called to testify tomorrow? Chief Reese sought no public input before seeking his will be done. In his Public Involvement Statement supporting Agenda item 441, Reese claims the vendor, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare is the only local provider contracting with Raintree Systems: Due to this ‘sole-source’ relationship, public involvement is not warranted. He declined to enter primary contact information for those who’d like to know more.
The stares of City Commissioners will be as blank as the Chief’s response to the form’s space for reporting “Which community and business groups, under-represented groups, organizations, external government entities, and other interested parties were involved in this effort?”
So blatant is Portland City Council’s lack of curiosity, no commissioners are likely to question the $47,000 line item, listed as ‘Fringe,’ which we’ll pay in addition to salaries. They’ll allocate almost $94,000 to Kay Peterson, as a Nurse Practitioner, to work 3/4 time: Indeed reports $93,000 the going rate for a full-time commitment.
Gotta have that database.
Most troubling: ‘our partners’ at the DoJ and our elected officeholders will sit mute while re-contracting with Project Respond Clinicians who oversaw police beatings and electronic control weapons wounding the mentally ill. The implicit message? Even when you get caught, you’ll keep your jobs.
Lack of debate on these contract deficiencies reveals Portland suffers from the absence of an active Police Commissioner. No one is focused on – or specifically compensated for – developing remedies to even the tiny subset of civil rights violations Federal investigators identified. City Council’s willingness to carry on with the very same practices that have been declared problematic demonstrate those in authority have yet to conceptualize reform.