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COMMENTS on Mental Health Crisis Response Directive, September 2017

The posting of Directive 850.20 on Mental Health Crisis Response brings to light reasons the Bureau's Directives review system has made some advances but still has far to go. This policy, which is crucial to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Agreement with the City, was last posted for review in January and April, 2015, at which time Portland Copwatch (PCW) made extensive remarks. The policy was quietly adopted with the approval of the DOJ in May, 2016, long before the Bureau began posting the near-final copies with "redlines" and cover memos explaining the changes made. Examining the current active version of the Directive which has been posted for review at < http://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/59757>, PCW noticed numerous changes made between 2014 and 2015, not the least of which was renaming the core training on mental health.[...]
From Portland Copwatch < copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org>

Date Fri 12:29


To Acting Chief Uehara, Capt. Bell, Lieutenant Morgan, PPB Policy Analysts, Compliance Officer/Community Liaison Team, Community Oversight Advisory Board staff, US Dept. of Justice, Citizen Review Committee and the Portland Police Bureau:

[...] What used to be called (and still is, to most of us following the Portland Police) "Crisis Intervention Training" was renamed "Mental Health Response Training" in this Directive. Perhaps this was because Portland's model doesn't exactly mirror Memphis' Crisis Intervention Team model, or it was to better differentiate the basic 40 hour training from the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team's extra 40 hours. Regardless, the fact that a group like PCW, which follows Portland Police issues closely, wasn't aware of this change until we closely examined the new policy indicates that the Bureau has serious issues communicating information to the community.

We will not take time here to comment on the various policies which have been posted in their final forms (especially since the Bureau claims they do not want to receive such commentary) but may do so in the coming weeks. These include the Crowd Control policy that was posted on August 2, and Vehicle Interventions and Pursuits posted August 27. Today, September 8, the Bureau posted for Second review the Bias Based Policing Directive. Upon visiting the PPB website, we found that seven other Directives were posted for review (three First Reviews and four Second Reviews) on September 1, while your notification system only sent out a message with a link to the current version of Directive 1010.10. We wrote back asking why that happened and received no reply. The Bureau should send out a new notice and re-set the clock on those seven Directives since the public wasn't properly notified.

We still believe having links to specific policies under consideration cross-listed on the main Directives page, the First and Second Review pages, and the Pending Enactment page, would help those who are trying to keep up with the process.

The Mental Health Directive is a First review document, meaning there is no indication of what the Bureau is considering changing, and, as noted above, there is no "redline" version showing what was changed from the April 2015 draft to the May 2016 enacted version. We appreciate having 30 days to comment on this Directive but also continue to believe having 30 days after the proposed changes are released would give more time to respond to the Bureau's draft.

As always, we ask that the Bureau add letters to section headings (Definitions, Policy, Procedure) so that there are not multiple sections with the same numbers, and to put numbers on the Definitions. Our comments below refer to the Procedure section unless otherwise noted.


In our 2015 comments, we were concerned that the definition of mental health crisis was so broad it could have included just about anyone. The current version discusses mental health, mental illnesses and mental health "problems," defining Mental Health Crisis to include "intense feelings of personal distress, a thought disorder, obvious changes in functioning, and/or catastrophic life events." While the characterization of "unusual behavior" was deleted, the idea of "neglect of personal hygiene" was not. It is true that taken in as part of the longer list of factors, this could indicate mental health problems, but the list should note that just that one "symptom" by itself does not indicate an issue. Otherwise this could lead to officers assuming anyone who doesn't self-groom whether by choice or lack of access to facilities is by definition in mental health crisis.

As a means to overcome assumptions made based on this definition (and recognizing, as the Directive does, that "Mental health providers are responsible for the ...diagnosis of persons with mental illness" [Policy 1]), we suggested better-defined decision making guidance than telling officers to "consider the governmental interests at stake" (Section 3.1). No such definition was added. A previous Section, for instance, that outlined why police might need to be called to the scene of mental health crises, which raised the issue of whether the person is armed, was removed in the 2015 draft and the current enacted version. Such guidelines, though, are included for Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT) calls as we address in the next paragraph.

Language in the previous draft saying "ECIT members may assist in incidents" was replaced with the appropriate stronger "ECIT members will respond as the primary member on a mental health crisis call" (Section 4.1). This section is specific as to the governmental interests that prompt ECIT involvement: request of a citizen or responding officer, a subject who is threatening suicide, violent and/or has a weapon, or if the call is at a residential mental health facility. There should be a reference in that last subsection (4.1.6) to Directive 850.25 on Police Response to Mental Health Facilities (and, as we've said numerous times, there should be guidelines in THAT Directive for officers not to enter those facilities with lethal weapons unless the suspect somehow has access to a gun).

The Bureau took our advice and expanded the Definition of the ECIT, which used to say ECIT members are volunteer officers who take ECIT training, now explaining that those officers have 40 extra hours of mental health response training.

However, for some reason the definitions of these important terms have been removed: de-escalation, disengagement, delayed custody, and non-engagement. In fact, non-engagement is no longer an option given in the Directive.* The other words all appear in some form in the new ROADMAP mnemonic Section of the policy (2.1.3). The D stands for Disengagement. The second A stands for "Arrest Delayed" (aka delayed custody). The "P" stands for "Patience" which mentions using time and communication to de-escalate. As we have noted elsewhere, we think the Bureau should only use the term "de-escalation" to mean calming a situation down using verbal and physical tactics, not for lowering the amount of force already being used on a suspect. We noted in our 2015 comments that these tactics (including non-engagement) can be used on someone regardless of whether they are in mental health crisis as alternatives to officers using force.

We also wrote in 2015, and it is still true: "The Directive still does not call attention to the fact that the mere presence of a uniformed officer can cause trauma/stress for persons with mental health issues (and other members of the general public who are fearful of police due to past experience or witnessing of police violence)." Allies in the mental health community have noted that there are some people who might respond better to a uniformed officer than to a mental health professional showing up on scene, but the Directive should at least raise this issue and offer options to consider for de-escalating, such as putting on PPB polo shirts or other less intimidating gear.

While we continue to appreciate the acknowledgment that law enforcement should not evaluate, diagnose and treat mental health ailments (as noted above, in Policy 1), it is too bad that there are still remnants of blaming the lack of adequate services for how often police interact with (and thus exert violence on and/or kill) people in crisis. Policy 3 still talks about officers being "increasingly required to respond" to persons with mental illness. Since Policy 1 describes the PPB seeking to be part of a holistic system an preferring referrals to community-based treatments, language laying blame elsewhere should all be removed. De-escalation, recognizing behaviors and avoiding excessive force should be mandatory regardless of what's going on with other agencies. Besides which, if the Directive is not changed for several years and such calls decrease, the statement will no longer be accurate.

The Bureau partially responded to our concern that Supervisors, who previously were required to respond to calls in designated mental health facilities, were only asked to "acknowledge" such calls in the 2015 draft. The current version (Section 5.2) says Supervisors "will acknowledge or respond to" such calls. Given the high stakes raised by the deaths of Jose Mejia Poot and Merle Hatch, we suggest the response go back to being mandatory-- especially because it is mandatory in Directive 850.25 (Sections 1.1 and 1.3).

We are still concerned that Section 3.1.2 does not require officers to stand by when a person checks into a mental health facility. Persons in trauma may feel confused and abandoned if left alone. Unless the PPB or the facility assigns an advocate to the person upon their being dropped off, the officer should stay with the subject.


At its August 24 hearing, the City formalized the guidelines for the new body replacing the Community Oversight Advisory Board, which will require the Bureau to integrate the new Committee into its Directives review process. We look forward to seeing this concept implemented, including but not limited to: public discussions about the policies and their implications, recommendations from the Committee being responded to by the PPB within a required 60 day time frame, and the community having a chance to hear about the Directives in a public setting and give direct feedback. In many ways, the Bureau doesn't need to create a plan for community engagement, they just need to take positive steps to actively listen to community feedback on its policies, practices, training, and culture.

Thank you as always for the opportunity to comment
Dan Handelman and other members of
Portland Copwatch

*There is, however, a clause in Section 2.1.2 which begins "If the member decides to intervene...", implying but not explicitly saying that deciding not to intervene is always an option.

--Portland Copwatch
(a project of Peace and Justice Works)
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065 (office)
(503) 321-5120 (incident report line)

homepage: homepage: http://www.portlandcopwatch.org