Preliminary agreement requires Portland police to improve procedures for dealings with people with mental illnesses

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The city of Portland OR announced September 13 that its reached a preliminary settlement with the Department of Justice requires its police department to change it procedures regarding how it deals with suspects with mental illnesses.

The announcement came as the Department of Justice announced the findings of an investigation into the Portland Police Bureau, which began in June 2011 in response to a rash of police shootings regarding people with mental illnesses. In a scathing 42-page report, the DOJ found that the police force is “engaging in a pattern or practice of unnecessary or unreasonable force during interactions with people who are or are perceived to have mental illness.”

The settlement would require the police force to reduce its use of Tasers and improve deescalation techniques, as well as to establish a community oversight panel to oversee the reform efforts. Complaints of misconduct would also go through an expedited process.

The city would also be required to expand its use of mobile crisis units, consisting of mental illness specialists, to reduce the use of the police in non law enforcement matters. A 24-hour secure drop-off and walk-in center would also be created to preempt emergencies and the city’s emergency phone services would also be improved.

“Police officers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They are sworn to serve and protect, and these findings highlight where there has been a breakdown in that solemn vow,” said Amanda Marshall, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, in a news release. “These findings against PPB lay the framework for us to make meaningful changes that will not only make our community safer, but will empower Portland’s police officers to be more effective as trusted public servants.

“We all agree with the fundamental principal that all citizens, especially our most vulnerable, must be able to trust the police to protect their civil rights.”

The parties are scheduled to meet October 12, after receiving public comment, when they hope to finalize the settlement.