A few big bombshells dropped from Police Chief Mike Reese's office this morning—part of the buildup to the coming Monday's extended deadline for a deal between the federal Department of Justice and the Portland Police Bureau on our cops' propensity to excessively beat and Taser people perceived to be mentally ill.
(Click here to read them all, with comments due by November 2.)
In the first big shift, the bureau is retracing its own footsteps: restoring a specially trained "crisis intervention team" expected to respond to calls where the primary issue is someone in a mental health crisis. The bureau had a team like this before, but it wasn't seen as a plum assignment for cops and was disbanded in favor of providing crisis training to all officers. That baseline training will remain in place, with the new team expected to work as an overlay.
Reese has defended the bureau's current approach. As he told me back in May 2011, on his one-year anniversary as chief: "Going back to where we have just a few officers trained, I don't think that's a good model." But the baseline training for officers hasn't been as deep or as specific as needed—and not all cops, as the feds noted, are cut out to handle delicate crisis calls. A hybrid approach probably makes the most sense.
The bureau explains its CIT decision as such:
Recently, Chief Mike Reese met with members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as other mental health stakeholders and families whose loved ones struggle with mental illness. The group discussed how officers respond to these situations, which are complex and unfold quickly. Arriving officers most often do not know if the person is suffering from a medical problem, mental health issue, drug and alcohol issues, or some combination of two or more. With that in mind, the Chief is creating a Crisis Intervention Team - a volunteer specialized team.
Under this new model, the Police Bureau will continue training all officers in CIT, but we will also have a team of officers, who receive enhanced training to ensure they have consistent updates related to resources and mental health and addictions systems issues. These officers will continue to work their normal patrol duties, but can dispatched to a call in progress where mental health issues are the primary reason for the call. If no crisis calls are waiting, CIT Officers will perform their regular duties. In addition, these officers will work in coordination with the Mobile Crisis Unit to identify individuals in our community who have frequent police contact due to their mental health and/or addiction issues.
In another shift, which had been hinted by Reese even before the DOJ issued its harsh findings last month, the bureau will formally change its directives on Tasers so it's no longer permissible to shock someone who isn't actually "actively" resisting or posing a threat to cops.
But the bureau isn't adding, in another decision previously telegraphed by Reese, specific limits on how many times a Taser can be used, or "cycled," on someone.
The chief had signaled his acceptance of both changes in his response to a Citizen Review Committee report crafted earlier this year on less-lethal weapons. That report, as the Mercury noted, echoed several others from inside and outside the city on the need to improve Portland's Taser policies.
The bureau had already been changing the way cops were trained to use Tasers—training that will now be backstopped by the literal wording of the policies—after recent judicial rulings on Tasers said current language permitting the electroshock of passive resisters was unconstitutional. What's troubling, though, is that the bureau doesn't appear to be making changes to its policies for other less-lethal weapons, like beanbag shotguns.
And in a third change that's may raise the hackles of the Portland Police Association, the bureau wants to require cops who use deadly force to give an on-scene interview about what happened and, briefly, why. Right now, the city's contract with the PPA allows for 48 hours to converse with union reps before involved cops can be compelled to talk to investigators.
The current change won't replace the deeper internal affairs investigation. And many of the proposed questions seem directly related to public safety, presuming a scene remains "active" after shots are fired. So it remains unclear how useful this interview will be in determining whether a cop was in or out of policy or following training. Or not.
To ensure the safety of the public by obtaining timely and accurate information, an On-Scene Interview will be provided by members that are witness to or are involved in the use or direct the use of deadly force. The purpose of the interview is to provide responding officers, supervisors, and investigators with an overview of the incident so that they may apprehend suspects, render aid to citizens, identify witnesses, identify a crime scene, preserve evidence, communicate with the public about the incident, or any other information as may be required..
The involved member will be allowed a reasonable opportunity to confer with an attorney or union representative prior to providing the On-Scene Interview, except in the case of an immediate threat to the safety of a member or the public. The On-Scene Interview will include, as appropriate, the following questions;
At the time and to the best of your knowledge:
a. Approximately where were you standing when you fired your weapon?
b. In what direction was your direction of fire and what was your backstop?
c. Was anyone injured? If so where are they located?
d. Are there any outstanding suspects? If so what are their descriptions and what is the direction and mode of travel? How long have the suspects been gone?
e. What crimes are the suspects wanted for? What weapons are the armed with?
f. Are there any witnesses to this incident, and where can they be located?
g. Does any evidence need to be protected?
h. What are the boundaries of the scene?
i. In general terms, understanding a more thorough review will occur later, what threat or circumstance prompted the use of deadly force?
j. Other questions designed to provide a general description of the event and serve the purposes set out in the definition of an On-Scene Interview. If the involved supervisor directed the use of deadly force the supervisor will identify which member(s) were directed to use deadly force.