In order to avoid trial for civil rights violations in use-of-force by Portland Police (PPB), the City of Portland and Department of Justice seek a Federal Court to approve a Settlement Agreement. The public will, on 18 February, for the first time get to weigh in on the secretly negotiated compact.

In that Agreement (pg. 36) the parties describe a Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) which the City has already premptively funded and established.* When covering data management, the deal stipulates “PPB will use such data to decrease law enforcement interactions …

Consult Hardesty fails to see that victims, ‘those perceived to be in mental health crisis,’ are best served by escalating police involvement in mental health assessment and delivery of services. It seems an obvious remedy to place checks and balances on these beatings and killings outside the perpetrators’ reach: it seems obvious that – by their training – firemen and paramedics are more suitable for this kind of nurturance.

Researching the matter, Consult Hardesty reviewed BHU’s October 2013 newsletter. Their case study is chilling:

In September 2013, East Precinct Night Shift Officers were contacted by The Bureau of Emergency Communication (BOEC/911). A caller had contacted BOEC after observing a anonymous post [sic] on a social media website, by somebody who was threatening suicide. The night shift officers were unable to locate contact information for the subject making the threats, so they referred the call to the BHU who began working on the case the following morning. 

Members of the BHU attempted to contact the anonymous poster through the social media website, to offer outreach. However, the subject immediately pulled the information down from the website. With assistance from Missing Person Detectives, officers in the BHU were able to get an email address for the subject and again attempted outreach through this email account; however, they did not receive any response. 

Later, the BHU was able to locate a phone number for the person through the email provider’s account information. When the BHU attempted outreach over the phone, the unit again did not receive any response. Nevertheless, the phone number led to an address where MCU officers attempted to contact the subject over three days and nights. On the fourth day the subject returned the BHU’s phone calls and began engaging with Project Respond Clinicians. 

The subject is now working closely with his therapist. This is a great example of the importance of the teamwork that takes place every day between various units within the Portland Police Bureau and its partners.

We’ve already posted our concerns about police using ‘delivery of health care’ as a pretext for detention without trial. Our peers have compiled case studies where bogus charges were dropped … but the victim remains incarcerated. In a hospital. Without access to an overburdened public defender, decisions about victims’ freedom are made by doctors. Few appreciate the profit center the Affordable Care Act has made of this population: ‘care’ providers get $500/$800 per day, per bed for clients police introduce to them. Inmates have no institutionalized means of recourse to adjudicate their imprisonment.

We contend police trained to detect criminal activity are unlikely to make accurate threat assessments, regarding those in crisis. Already accustomed to intrusive, unconstitutional patterns and practices, they cannot be suddenly remade into diagnosticians. Without having implemented psychological evaluation services, we have real concerns regarding who gets assigned to the BHU detail.*

PPB’s Service Coordination Team (SCT, pp.36, 41), operating under the guise of getting repeat offenders to services, requires targeted individuals to waive rights, and often plead to a felony for an offer of chemical dependency treatment.

Two years prior to the DoJ Investigation Portland’s Street Roots alerted us to the following concerns regarding the SCT:

The program has come under scrutiny from homeless advocates and attorneys who say the program violates individuals civil rights by forgoing an individuals right to council and being put on a “secret” list made up of repeat offenders.

The individuals targeted through the program belong to a list called the “Neighborhood Livability Crime Enforcement Offender List,” many of which are homeless and/or experiencing a mental health issue. The list is made up of individuals that the city deems chronic offenders.

To identify chronic offenders the police bureau does a blind data run on the top 35 repeat offenders in ten neighborhoods at the city’s core over a three-month period. The data runs target arrests for larceny, fraud, forgery, possession or distribution of a controlled substance, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and probation violations. Once an individual on the list re-offends, they can be picked up anywhere in Portland. More than 400 people are now on the list.

Because the program allows the police to detain people on the list for a one- to three-day holding period while they’re being charged for a crime, and then given treatment options, some critics charge that the program supersedes the normal criminal justice system and therefore strips individuals of their rights.

In April, the secret list was challenged by a group of attorneys affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, but a Multnomah County Judge ruled the program to be constitutional.

We will urge the Court to understand, that BHU secret lists inhibit constitutional protections in the same ways as do undisclosed Gang Designation Records, which are retained for four years following a ‘last action.’ We’re surprised the Agreement makes no provision for victims to protest incorrect designations, or – at the least – indicate they no longer quality for such surveillance. If the DoJ were invested in righting the wrongs of long-held abuse patterns, you might likely expect they would mandate reforms to intrusive, warrantless surveillance.

Justice now demands transparent data management and benchmarks for improvement. If the Agreement receives the Court’s rubber stamp of approval, a competent, goal-directed city manager would add contract provisions for the dozens of anticipated new police hires. Stipulations should assure that, if s/he cannot statistically verify reductions in civil rights violations, they’ll lose that job.

*PPB Chief Reese appointed – before assigning any unit Supervisor – Bret Burton as the first ‘sworn’ officer of the BHU’s Mobile Crisis Unit. Burton’s former employer, Multnomah County, paid $925,000 to the heirs of an emotionally vulnerable man, in whose 2006 stomping death a jury found Burton culpable. In the interim, before Reese could hire him, Burton engendered another cash settlement  … for fracturing a woman’s elbow in an excessive use of force in 2009.


Bret Burton is the only officer not smiling in the publicity shot of the BHU.



2 thoughts on “Cops Taking Names & Delivering Health Care

  1. I could not believe that one of Chasse’s murderers actually got on this unit! Also, something not noticed in the film is that the cops didn’t take James to the closest hospital (Good Sam) but to one that was nearly the furthest away.

    Thank you for pointing out that “mental health” units an be in fact jails, where people are presumed stripped of their civil and human rights, and incarcerated without even a judge’s order. Cops have always deemed themselves the maker of de facto law. They won’t be any better at being therapists than they are at being ordinary cops.

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