NYAPRS Note: Advocates are continuing to urge New York City officials to institute some form of police Crisis Intervention teams. Here’s how pressure from the federal Department of Justice caused Portland to do the same.
Portland Police Chief's Draft Policy Changes On Use Of Force Embrace Some DOJ Reforms, Not Others
By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian October 17, 2012
Facing pressure from federal justice officials, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said Wednesday he will bring back a specialized team of crisis intervention officers who will work patrol and be called out to handle mental health crisis calls.
After years of resisting such a change, Reese acknowledged that having a select group of officers who volunteer for such work will improve the bureau's street interactions with people suffering from mental illness.
The U.S. Department of Justice last month urged the bureau to create a Crisis Intervention Team of officers after its extensive inquiry found the bureau engaged in a a "pattern and practice" of excessive force against people with mental illness.
The chief's decision pleased community mental health advocates and retired and current Portland police officers who have advocated for such a change since the bureau scrapped a specialized team in 2006.
"He is? Wow! I think it's wonderful," said Cathy Horey, who helped create the bureau's first specialized Crisis Intervention Team in 1995 when she was a Multnomah County program specialist.
Former Mayor Tom Potter dismantled the team in 2007 when he ordered all officers to complete 40 hours of crisis intervention training after the controversial death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
"This worked before. It will work again," Horey said of the crisis team. "Now that it's stated in black and white in the federal report, I don't think it's something they could ignore."
But the chief has not embraced all of the federal investigators' suggested changes to Portland police policies governing officers' use of force and Taser stun guns, based on draft policy revisions he released to officers and the public this week.
Draft policy changes
On Wednesday, the chief distributed drafts of revised bureau policies for public comment, as city and federal officials are in the final throes of negotiations on needed police reforms.
The draft policies do not go as far as justice officials had sought in several areas. For example, federal officials urged the bureau to require officers involved in shootings to be interviewed immediately by detectives, instead of allowing a 48-hour wait after an incident.
The Justice Department also urged the city to restrict the number of Taser cycles an officer can fire at a suspect. The bureau did not adopt those standards in its draft policies but made other changes.
"These draft directives are in response to the DOJ, but also contain changes that bring the Bureau in line with its current training as well as best practices in policing," Reese said in a prepared statement.
Police union leaders and Multnomah County prosecutors said they discussed policy changes with Portland police in September, but they haven't had an opportunity to weigh into the written drafts until now.
Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, said he was dismayed that the chief seems to be trying to get these policies in place, in order to avoid having the "DOJ direct them to make certain changes."
Despite the chief's request for public input, Handelman said, "it's more likely than not that they will put forward more moderate changes than the community demands."
The bureau will continue crisis intervention training for all its officers. Its new select team of officers, expected to be spread out on patrol in each of the city's precincts and shifts, will be created after Nov. 15. While federal officials recommend such a team report to a police supervisor, the bureau has not decided who will supervise the team or who will select its members, police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
The draft policy changes are outlined below:
A new "Application of Force" policy specifically directs officers to recognize that people in mental health crisis may require a "specialized response" to ensure confrontations are resolved with as little reliance on force as possible.
It reiterates the bureau's current policy that's more restrictive than federal law and requires officers to use the least amount of force necessary.
"The Bureau's goal is to resolve confrontations effectively and safely while relying on force as little as practical," the policy states. It requires officers "to think well during confrontations and to work diligently toward applying, when practical, less force than the maximum allowed by the constitutional standard and minimizing or avoiding force altogether when possible."
It added language that says officers, when considering what to do in a confrontation with a person experiencing mental illness or emotional crisis, "must recognize and reasonably balance society's significant interest in providing care for that person."
Officers must also describe their "de-escalation and force decisions in a report.
Under a draft revision of the bureau's Deadly Physical Force policy, officers involved in shootings would be required to provide an "on-scene interview" to a detective, afer given a reasonable chance to confer with a lawyer or union official. They'll be expected to provide an overview of what occurred, describing in general what threat prompted their use of force, where they were standing, the direction they fired at, their backdrop, if there were injuries, witnesses and the boundaries of the scene.
But a full, immediate sit-down interview remains voluntary. The union contract permits officers involved in such critical incidents to wait 48 hours before they're questioned.
Yet once detectives do conduct a full interview of the officer, an internal affairs investigator must be present, the draft says.
Federal justice officials had urged the bureau to scrap the 48-hour waiting period. Their report noted that many other agencies require officers in such situations to fill out use of force reports "immediately after an incident."
The draft policy on Taser use does not restrict the number of stun gun cycles an officer may fire at a single person, as federal authorities had urged. But it says, "members should evaluate their force options and give strong consideration to other force options, if the Taser is not effective ater two" cycles on the same person.
Officers must give a warning before using a Taser, unless it would put someone at risk. It also says officers should consider a person's current mental health condition as a factor in deciding whether to use a Taser.
The bureau tightened its standard for Taser use, but not as far as the city auditor and federal justice officials had sought.
Police may only fire the stun gun's probes in response to "active aggression or active resistance", and defines active resistance as "physically evasive movements to defeat an officer's attempt at control, which could include ''verbally signaling" an intention to resist arrest.
Yet, the draft also says officers can use the Taser to take a person into custody when the person "makes or is a credible threat to engage in physical resistance' that is likely to create a risk of injury to the officer or others.
The draft no longer allows the Taser be used against a fleeing suspect unless that person presents an immediate threat of physical injury.
Michael Bigham, a member of the Citizen Review Committee and co-chair of a subcommittee that recommended Taser policy reforms to the bureau, said he was disappointed the bureau's draft on Tasers didn't restrict Taser use further.
"PARC (Police Assessment Resource Center) and the CRC (Citizen Review Committee), among others, have called for a limit of three cycles,'' Bigham said. "If a Taser hasn't controlled a person after three cycles, that course of action isn't working and the officer needs to consider other options.''
The chief asks for feedback on the new draft policies, with comments due by Nov. 2. After reading the new directive, there's a place for community members to provide comments.