Police in Oregon draft policy for dealing with mentally ill

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2015 2:13 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland police have drafted a new policy for dealing with mentally ill people that says sometimes it's OK for an officer to walk away if a confrontation could jeopardize a suspect or other people.

The policy follows a settlement last summer between the city and the U.S. Justice Department, which found that officers had a pattern of excessive force against people who have, or seem to have, mental illness, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1tD5fCo) reported Monday.

The policy stresses the importance of officers recognizing characteristics of mental illness and requires them to avoid unnecessary violence and potential civil liability.

Portland's move comes as other big-city police departments change their policies on dealing with the mentally ill. The Milwaukee Police Department is stepping up training so that all police officers on the force would be fully trained to deal with the mentally ill by 2018, the mayor announced in December, months after a Milwaukee police officer killed a schizophrenic man at a park.

In deciding how to respond to a call involving a person suffering a mental health crisis, officers are required to assess the risk to themselves, the person who is the subject of the calls and others, the policy says.

They're also to evaluate if police involvement is necessary given that many people with mental illness or in crisis aren't dangerous or may behave dangerously only under certain circumstances.

"Non-engagement or disengagement are tactics that can be used if the member determines that contact or continued contact with the person will result in an undue safety risk to the person, the public and/or members," the new policy reads. Officers would have to document that decision in a report.

Among the other options is delaying taking a person into custody if police can return at a safer time.

Also under the new policy, persons flagged as having a "mental illness" in the police database will be purged 10 years after their last known law enforcement contact.

The bureau is seeking comment on the policy and other bureau directives through Jan. 31.