The Portland OR police department has been sanctioned by the DoJ for its handling of cases involving people with psychiatric disabilities. There’s been too many deaths, too many tasings, too much violence, too much ignorance.
Now, Portland has announced a new policy.
The Portland Police Bureau has drafted a much-expanded policy that stresses the need for officers to recognize behaviors “characteristic” of mental illness and safely de-escalate encounters.
The new “Mental Health Crisis Response”directive requires officers to use special skills to avoid unnecessary violence and potential civil liability.
As Scott Kaufman writes over at Rawstory:
According to the new policy, police “are not expected to diagnose mental or emotional conditions, but are expected to recognize behaviors that are indicative of persons affected by mental illness or in crisis, with a special emphasis on those that suggest potential violence and/or danger.”
If officers judge that the person is suffering from a mental illness or is in an acute state of crisis, instead of confronting them, they are strongly encouraged to disengage and reevaluate the situation with the assistance of a supervisor or a member of the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT).
“Non-engagement or disengagement are tactics that can be used if the member determines that contact or continued contact with the person will result in an undue safety risk to the person, the public and/or members,” the new policy states.
“A police report will be written documenting the following: details of the call; reasons for non-engagement or disengagement; actions taken to deescalate the situation; actions taken to promote safety; follow up plans and referrals made, and whether the address is flagged” in a database containing the names of people who have previously had mental episodes.
Scott calls this: “just back off.”
I’ve written about this a lot over the last two years. So many incidents would not have gone wrong if the officer took steps backwards instead of steps forward. Once they are close to a person in mental health crisis, especially if they have a knife or even just their hands, officers feel threatened, and once they feel threatened they can use force. The only solution is to back away.
The problem is this – backing away runs directly counter to the cult of compliance, so training is critical. It’s got to kick in early in an incident (and there are many law enforcement trainers working on just this).
I’ll be watching the comment period and how this plays out closely.