The number of Portland residents who rated police response to people with mental illness as "very poor" jumped from just 5 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in the latest community survey gauging public perception of the Portland Police Bureau.
More than 40 percent of residents ranked the bureau's response to mental health as "poor" or "very poor."
That perception may have been influenced by several high-profile police shootings, some of which involved people suffering a mental health crisis. Since 2017, Portland police have fired shots in 14 cases, according to data published by the bureau.
PPB has been under a settlement agreement since 2012, after the U.S. Department of Justice found Portland police had a pattern and practice of using force against people suffering from mental illness. The bureau has been working for more than six years to comply with that agreement, which required the city to conduct the survey.
"The DOJ has found us in substantial compliance in all areas related to our response to those in mental health crisis as a result of the diligent work we have been doing," Chief Danielle Outlaw said in a statement responding to the survey results. "PPB officers recently spent five hours working to get a person in crisis to come down from a construction crane with a successful outcome. In another incident this week, officers pulled a subject back in through a window as the subject was attempting suicide. These are only two examples of many with similar outcomes due to the work of compassionate PPB officers. "
The Police Bureau performed better on other questions in the survey. More than half of people who reported direct experiences with police said they were "treated fairly." One in three respondents had contacted the police to report a crime and 86 percent of those people felt satisfied with the police response to their calls for help.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they felt "safe" or "very safe" walking alone in their own neighborhood at night. Only 30 percent said the same about walking alone in downtown after sunset.
Most people viewed the police in a positive light when thinking about crime prevention and investigation, according to the survey findings. Most people said they would call the police if they saw a crime occur and would cooperate with officers investigating a crime.
Still, slightly fewer than half of respondents said they felt PPB did a "good job" or "very good job" fighting crime.
That perception may come down to declining stops and clearance rates, which the bureau has blamed on low staffing levels. In 2016, PPB data shows officers only made arrests in 6 percent of sexual assault investigations. Similarly, DUII arrests have been decreasing as fewer officers work in the traffic division.
Survey respondents also voiced concern about how police treat people of color and marginalized communities. The vast majority did not know what steps the Police Bureau had taken to improve its services to the public.
"Managing public perceptions related to the work we do and how we do it is one of our biggest challenges," Outlaw said in a statement. "We are encouraged to hear that those who directly interact with us believe they were treated fairly and we will continue to strive for excellence."