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Your call: Mayoral and City Council candidates question on police, mental health

Mayoral and City Council candidates Charlie Hales, Jefferson Smith, Amanda Fritz and Mary Nolan take a shot at Street Roots’ questions for the future of Portland.

1. The Department of Justice investigation into the Portland Police Bureau revealed, among other things, two serious problems. One being that our police use excessive force on people perceived to have a mental illness, due to deficiencies in policy, training and supervision. The other serious problem is failings in our mental health support network, from triage sites to engagement with health providers. What will you do to correct these problems?

Charlie Hales: Excessive use of force is not acceptable. Ever. Police officers are not mental health providers and should not be the first line of defense for mental health-related crises. We should be clear that the failure of the legislature to adequately fund mental health is a contributing cause of this problem. We need more wrap-around services to support our mentally ill population.

The Department of Justice report underscores that we need to focus our police bureau on true community policing — prevention, relationship-building in neighborhoods and training in de-escalation. When a community knows the officers assigned to their neighborhood by name and sees them on a regular basis, it helps to establish credibility with members of the community. This, in turn, will help prevent a collision of strangers resulting in the unnecessary use of force, making the use of force the exception, not the standard.

As mayor, I will return our city to true community policing practices and I will work with all partners at the local level to provide more services for our mentally ill citizens. I will lobby Salem for increased mental health services funding for our local providers and CCOs as well as advocate for greater Medicaid match. And I will work to increase police accountability, including ending the “48 hour rule” that prevents getting the facts from police officers involved in shootings until two days after the incident.

Jefferson Smith: In the public safety plan I recently released these two areas — better training of police and an expansion of our capabilities in dealing with people suffering from mental illness — are cornerstones of the work we need to accomplish.

Our training should make sure officers arrive on the scene with a mindset to solve problems — not limited to punishment or arrest. The new training center is a chance to enhance training practices and implement better procedures for our police to use. We need to look at how other cities -— New York’s department is far from perfect, but they have reduced the number of incidents involving police using weapons in recent years.

In addition, we must invest in treatment options that offer more choices about where to take people who come into contact with law enforcement and are suffering a mental health crisis. Today, they can go to the emergency room or to jail. That’s wasteful and ineffective. Our Mobile Crisis Unit pilot project works in only one precinct. We must expand programs like that to better serve the communities and the people affected. We must also work with our nonprofit service providers to bring the full complement of possible services into the equation every police officer can use when faced with these situations.

Finally, we need one more thing — better communication between all of Portland: communications that must be led by the mayor’s office.

I’m proud to have the support of safety activists, local civil rights leaders, public safety officers and clergy, who are all deeply concerned about public safety in our community and who all recognize the issues of police accountability being debated in Portland.

As mayor I will work to bring all of these parties together, to ensure that our streets are safe, to build faith between our communities and our police and that all people’s civil rights are respected.

Amanda Fritz: My top priority is making Portland a place that is safe and just for all. I worked for 26 years in psychiatric nursing before being elected to serve all citizens in City Hall. I have been working since 2010 to evaluate systemic problems and begin implementing changes that will reduce interactions between the police and people in mental health crisis. I will continue to work to ensure that mental health services are provided by health care professionals, rather than police.  I am the only current or potential council member with experience in mental health care. I ask Portlanders to consider this one of the most important reasons to vote for me, along with my proven dedication to affordable housing, police accountability and fiscal responsibility.

I was a key leader in making over 110 amendments to the Independent Police Review process in 2010. The Department of Justice report is clear that more needs to be done. After one term in office, I now know what must be done to change the way police officers are trained and how they act. My re-election is crucial to effecting real change in both police accountability and community health care systems. I will continue the work I’ve initiated, to ensure that the Department of Justice order is implemented fully and appropriately. If you help me win re-election, we will provide better mental health care more cost-effectively, and we will minimize interactions between police and people experiencing mental illnesses that could lead to use of deadly force. I am uniquely qualified to continue to lead this crucial work.  Please vote to keep the psychiatric nurse on the Portland City Council.

Mary Nolan: There is a very real and very deep divide between significant numbers of Portland residents and law enforcement, including the Police Bureau.  The recent Department of Justice report, as well as the recent arbitrator’s decision and Employment Relations Board ruling, all identify omissions, mistakes, and failures by key players.  This includes the mayor and elected members of the City Council, the management of the Police Bureau, individual officers and the police association. As city commissioner, I will push to make this an urgent priority, leading with both strength and honesty to fix the failures that City Hall and police managers have allowed to fester in the training procedures immediately. It is primarily management’s responsibility to set police policy and to assure adequate supervision. This has to be an ongoing focus that anticipates and prevents problems rather than reacting after another tragedy overwhelms a Portland family and the whole Portland community. I will support the new mayor in committing wholeheartedly to public safety, not just law enforcement. In particular, I will support the new mayor in applying all the resources available to bring community leaders, public safety experts, union representatives and public health advocates to each take personal responsibility for making the changes needed to restore mutual respect and confidence.  As co-chair of the Public Safety Budget Committee in the State legislature, I worked effectively with the state police, Department of Corrections, Oregon Youth Authority, sheriffs and district attorneys to restore important programs to address mental health conditions among prisoners, to provide proven drug and alcohol treatment and to expand job training and re-entry services to improve the chances that people who complete their prison terms are equipped and committed to living peacefully back in an Oregon community.  I am anxious to apply that successful experience to help coordinate mental health responses and social services to achieve better safety results for families in crisis and for nearby neighbors.