Police abuse of people with mental illness has increased, despite federal oversight – Blogtown
MATHIEU LEWIS ROLLAND
The use of force by police against the mentally ill in Portland has only increased since the US Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the city in 2012 for the disproportionate use of violence by the office of Portland Police (PPB) against people with mental illness. The data came to light during a routine federal court check between the DOJ and the city on the status of the settlement agreement reached after the 2012 lawsuit.
A court filing by Jonathan Brown, a retired senior scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, detailed that the use of force by police against people with mental illness has increased slightly since 2017, on the based on PPB’s own data. At the same time, Brown found that the type of force intensified.
“I was surprised to discover that the number of applications and severity of force used in violent events involving mentally challenged citizens has increased rapidly and steadily over the past four years,” Brown wrote.
Brown submitted this data to the court as a volunteer for the Mental Health Alliance (MHA), one of the amici curiae (or a “friend of the court” who is authorized to comment on the litigation) in the case.
After delivering those facts to U.S. District Judge Michael Simon in court on Friday, Simon chimed in, “Could you repeat that?”
Eben Hoffer, another MHA member, pointed to this data as evidence that the settlement agreement did not address the real problem identified by the DOJ.
“Changing outcomes for real people,” Hoffer said, “is something we should be measuring.”
Brown recommended that the DOJ bring in an outside court monitor to oversee the progress of the 2014 settlement agreement, in which the city agreed to meet certain targets regarding police training, redress policies to force, accountability measures and other tools to improve the PPB.
“More transparency will increase respect for the police and help them do a better job,” Brown said Friday.
Friday’s hearing was just the latest in years-long negotiations between the city of Portland and the DOJ after reaching a settlement agreement in 2014.
The DOJ ruled that the city had complied with all terms of the settlement by early 2020, a benchmark that came with a promise to finally release the city from the deal if the city could continue to meet the terms of the settlement for a while. an additional year. This does not happen. According to the DOJ, the actions taken by PPB officers against the public during the 2020 racial justice protests immediately caused the city to fail to comply with the use of force requirements of the settlement agreement.
To compensate for these missteps, the DOJ proposed an amendment to the original settlement agreement that the city accepted — an amendment that includes a number of new accountability measures, including a mandate for body-worn cameras and sanctions for the PPB lieutenants who gave the green light. use of force by officers in 2020.
Friday’s hearing was an opportunity for U.S. District Judge Michael Simon to decide whether or not the new amendment is “fair, reasonable and adequate.”
Several other parties echoed Brown’s demand for a court-appointed monitor on Friday, including Portland Copwatch and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMAC).
“If we continue to have blowouts and break the settlement agreement,” said AMAC Co-Chair LeRoy Haynes, “we need to seriously consider a court-appointed monitor as a remedy to establish oversight and enforcement.” implementation of a settlement agreement”.
Government lawyers and community members raised further concerns about the future of the settlement agreement during Friday’s hearing. Specifically, many discussed the future of PPB’s body camera program, which continues to be negotiated between the city and PPB’s core union, the Portland Police Association (PPA), behind closed doors.
Simon accepted the amendments to the agreement during Friday’s hearing. The DOJ will meet again in court with the city for an update on the settlement in July.
It is unclear whether the data presented by Brown will impact the future of the settlement agreement. That’s because the agreement was not based on actually reducing the use of force against people with mental illness. Although the city agreed to adopt new training, data collection and monitoring procedures, the agreement did not require a reduction in the number of people with mental illness injured or killed by Portland police.
That disconnect has emerged in past meetings of the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP), the community group created to advise the city on meeting its settlement requirements.
“I want to emphasize the difference between outcomes and products,” said Lakayana Drury, who served as PCCEP co-chair, at a 2019 meeting. until we know what their results are, how can we even assess what is being done? Yes, there is new training for the police, but does it lead to the police using less force? »
Denis Rosenbaum, the city-appointed contractor charged with evaluating the city’s compliance with the bylaw, said it’s not the city’s job to change.
“You can debate what should be included in the settlement agreement, but that’s how it was written,” Rosenbaum told the Mercury in 2019. “Our hands are tied.”
Members of the public were asked to testify before Simon on Friday. Patrick Nolen, a former PCCEP member, told the court that Brown’s analysis made him “sad”.
“We are worse off now than in 2017,” Nolen said. “It’s something I don’t think we can accept.”