Portland Police, U.S. Department of Justice, Release Agreement on Mental Health Reforms

Mayor Sam Adams talks about the Department of Justice's report when it was released Sept. 13

The U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Portland released a settlement agreement Friday on changes the city must make in order to stay out of court, in the wake of the DOJ's findings that police have a pattern of using excessive force against the mentally ill.

The agreement ramps up both internal and external supervision of the department, expands police crisis training and response and further restricts officers' use of Tasers.

Unlike many cities slapped with a DOJ case, Portland will not have an independent DOJ monitor of its reforms. Rather, the city must hire or retain a compliance officer and liaison to track progress. The liaison—to be selected from three candidates by the city council—will provide quarterly public reports, U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said during a press conference Friday at City Hall.

Officers must also only use one Taser at a time, and must attempt to handcuff suspects after each 5-second discharge of the weapon, she says. That portion of the recommendation doesn't exactly jibe with a draft policy revision released by Chief Mike Reese last week, which did not restrict the number of Taser cycles that could be used on a person. 

Oregon ACLU Executive Director Dave Fidanque said that his group will meet with the police to express some of their concerns, including those about the draft Taser policy.

"There's other stuff that needs to happen," he says, adding that the bureau should ban stun gun use on those practicing active resistance—which includes actions like "tensing"­—and restrict use to those aggressively resisting officers.

The Portland Police Bureau will also create a Crisis Intervention Team of specially trained officers who will respond to all calls suspected to involve mental illness. The agreement will also expand the police Mobile Crisis Unit—a vehicle pairing one officer and a private social worker—to a 24 hour program.

A 15-member Community Oversight Advisory Board will also be created. The city auditor's office will also hire three new investigators, including at least one with a background in mental health, City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade says.

The cost is expected to be $5.8 million in the first year, and includes 26 new staff members in the PPB and six new staff members elsewhere in the city.

"I haven't figured out how to pay for it, but we will," Mayor Sam Adams said.

Adams, Chief Mike Reese and Commissioner Amanda Fritz all also spoke at the press conference Friday, and heralded the agreement's stipulations.

"We're fully embracing the responsibility that we have and the reality we face in dealing with those with mental illness," Adams says. "We embrace the totality of our role in the mental health system."

The U.S. Department of Justice released its report on the department's "pattern and practice" of unconstitutional use of excessive force against those with mental illness. Friday's agreement was due on Oct. 12, but the city needed extra time to complete the 74-page document.

Other mental health services are expected to be bolstered as a result of the DOJ's report—those are due in mid-May, according to the city.

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