1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue, Portland, OR 97204
September 12, 2012
I want to thank the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, including Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and his staff, for working with us for the last 14 months. And thank you also to Mayor Adams for his guidance and support throughout this entire process.
Every day, Portland Police Officers are working to protect and serve our community. Last year we had approximately 400,000 contacts with community members and too many of these were the result of homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.
As a law enforcement agency, over the last decade, we have had a dynamic shift from responding to criminal issues to responding to social disorder. Unfortunately, our system has given officers less options to help people who are afflicted with mental health issues and sometimes concurrent drug and alcohol problems. We have not been adequately prepared for the changing circumstances in our community, related to mental health.
The situations we are talking about today are complex and difficult for officers to resolve. There are no easy answers or guaranteed outcomes. Thoughtful people can respectfully disagree with the legal conclusions. I strongly agree that this bureau and our community can improve the way we serve and protect Portland's most vulnerable populations. That's why, as the DOJ has collaboratively provided us with recommendations during their investigation, this bureau has already implemented changes in the way we investigate use of force, embarked on reducing unnecessary interactions with people in mental health crisis, and created an Inspector position responsible for reviewing all force incidents looking for trends or patterns that may be problematic. The recommendations contained in this letter from the Department of Justice provide us with ideas for additional enhancements that we believe are valuable ways to ensure that our use of force meets the community's expectations.
As we move to implement these recommendations, we are fortunate to have close relationships with leaders in the mental health community, including Cascadia, which provides Project Respond workers who assist on many calls for service regarding people in crisis. Dr Derald Walker, CEO of Cascadia, is here today. I want to personally thank him and his staff for the tremendous support they give police officers each and every day, as well as the other social service agencies who assist our officers. If we are to be successful in meeting these challenges, then police officers will need to have better relationships with our social service partners than we do with jail staff.
We all agree that we as a police department and as a community can do better. I am looking forward to a collaborative relationship with the Department of Justice and our social service partners as we make improvements that provide officers and our community more options and resources to effectively help people who are in a mental health crisis.
Finally, what we are talking about today is processes and systems-not about our Police Officers. The men and women, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, are not to blame. They are out in the community doing their best-and in the majority of cases are highly successful, saving lives and making a positive difference in our community. I support them and the work they do.
The Portland Police Bureau continues to evolve, learn and improve. I believe the resulting agreement from our efforts with the Department of Justice will make us a better police bureau.
Chief Michael Reese
Portland Police Bureau