Mayor Charlie Hales' bid to pull the city's share of funding for Multnomah County's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center—a 16-bed facility billed as a resource for police officers—has clearly irked County Chairman Jeff Cogen and even raised questions from at least one city commissioner, Amanda Fritz.
The status of the CATC, as the Mercury first reported in January, has been something of a sore spot between Cogen's office and the city, which spends $600,000 a year to help operate the facility even though its officers have yet to directly drop anyone there in the nearly two years it's been open.
And while Cogen has vowed to lobby Hales to reverse the proposal—calling himself "shocked" and "stunned" and reminding everyone about the federal government's lawsuit against the police bureau over its rough treatment of the mentally ill—he may not get his wish.
An email sent to Hales' office this week reveals the mayor's staff is pushing ahead with other plans for a walk-in-style crisis center for people with mental illness that presumably would receive city funding instead. That email, sent by Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, goes so far as to counsel the mayor's office "no worries" over the pullback from the CATC.
"About the CATC. No worries from the mental health advocacy community on that one," Renaud wrote to Baruti Artharee, Hales' public safety director, in an email obtained through a public records request. "Telecare [the company that runs the CATC for the county] did nothing for us except cash your checks.
The place was clean and quiet and the patients there felt safe—but it was also empty a lot of the time and unresponsive to the initial needs of the community."
Further, an internal police memo (pdf) obtained by the Mercury—drafted in May 2012 by Captain Sara Westbrook, recently installed as head of the bureau's new behavioral health unit—shows that police bureau's complaints about the CATC's admissions rules had been known for months before our story revealed the dysfunction between the two agencies. That memo appears to be the source of a statement the bureau sent to the Mercury after our story ran.
Renaud's email casts the CATC as something that's already gone. But Cogen has said the county will continue to run the facility without the city's money, shaving off five of its 16 beds and potentially keeping hundreds of people from getting service. The city and county each pay 20 percent of the CATC's operating budget, with the state making up the difference.
Hales has said he thinks the CATC is a fine facility, just that it's not good for police officers who say they can't use it because of rules that say someone must be stable and not a dramatic danger to themselves before being taken to the county. The county argues, in turn, that cops are unwilling to spend time calling ahead to the CATC, another rule, and sifting through which people need to be settled down and might be a a danger to themselves but aren't such a danger that they can't still be taken to the facility.
Renaud, in an interview, also disputed something Cogen said about the CATC's origins. Cogen said it came from recommendations that sprang directly from the death of James Chasse Jr. at the hands of police in 2006. Renaud, who produced a documentary about Chasse's life and death, Alien Boy, says "that's not accurate." He said it was former County Chairman Ted Wheeler who championed, years later, the idea of a drop-off center.
"It was developed in an antagonistic process where the police came looking for one thing and the mental health community came looking for something different," he told me. "The result satisfied neither.
The police haven't used it as they should have or could have. It's a lot of money for a service that probably isn't our highest and greatest need."
Renaud pointed to the kind of walk-in facility he's trying to help the city and county design instead—something like the drop-off center envisioned in the Department of Justice settlement with the city.
"It's one of the few items in the settlement on the mental health side that seems viable and vital," he says. "But it needs to be a place where all people can come voluntarily and not be blocked or told they're not eligible—and also a place police officers can use efficiently and effectively, like Hooper Detox."