Jim Chasse
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Deadly Force and Mental Distress – A Deadly Combination

 

When James Chasse Jr. was engaged by Portland Police officers on September 17, 2006 he was suspected of urinating on a street and “acting strangely”.  The policies and training that governs police officer engagement with mentally ill persons should sound alarms in the hearts and minds of all citizens.

           

            While this situation is uncommon, the tragic event indicates how inadequate policies and the lack of training can lead to disastrous results.  Worse yet, the city of Portland, Oregon has spent time and money to identify the problem yet ignored critical parts of their own audits.

 

            The City of Portland Independent Police Review (IPR) has retained the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) to provide bi-annual reviews of officer-involved shootings and in custody deaths.  The first “PARC Report”  was delivered in August 2003 and contained 89 recommendations to the Portland Police Bureau's (PPB) policies on use of deadly force.  In August 2005, PARC delivered the first follow up to the "PARC Report".

 

            The PARC Report 2005 recommendation 3.2 states "The PPB should expand its written deadly force policy to provide that certain uses of force, such as strikes to the head or other vital areas with impact weapons, may not be used unless the officer is justified in using deadly force.  To date the PBB has not made the recommended addition to its policy on deadly force."

 

            To their credit, the PPB has adopted a use of deadly force policy as follows: "A member may use deadly force to effect capture or prevent escape of a suspect where the member has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant and immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to the member or others."

 

            The flaw in this set of policies is that if beating a person with an impact weapon is not considered deadly force, the procedure regarding use of deadly force does not apply.  

 

            There are some answers available.  The report goes on to discuss the implementation of  Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for Officers and reports "That none of the approximately 1300 responses by CIT-certified officers to incidents involving persons with disturbed mental states in the eighteen months under review resulted in an officer-involved shooting suggests the value of the training."  Yet the number of trained officers was reported to have fallen from 200 to approximately 140 since the program began.  The report further concludes that the expense to train officers “would at least be somewhat offset by the money saved from not having to deal with the consequences of those avoided officer-involved shootings."

 

            The city should be commended for undertaking such professional and intelligent audits.  Mayor Potter’s proposal to expand CIT Training in the city needs to be passed by the city council.  The city paid for this work to find answers to difficult questions.  The answers have been given to us.  We ignore the recommendations at our own peril.

 

UPDATE

After this article was written, the Portland City Council passed the funding to have all police officers undergo Crisis Intervention Training.  Mayor Potter, who is due to leave office December 31, 2008, has spoken at the NAMI Walks NW Kickoff Luncheon and proclaimed Mental Health Day in Portland for two years running.  Mayor Potter is to be commended for his public support of mental health issues.  Sadly, community resources are still lacking and the end result is only that police are likely to be more humane in dealing with the seemingly endless cycle of crisis, intervention, temporary treatment followed by likely repetition of the process all over again.

 
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Last modified: 05/13/08