A Portland, Or. proposal by two commissioners and the police chief to improve police encounters with the mentally ill is facing mixed reviews, The Oregonian reports. Some mental health advocates said the proposal doesn't go far enough, and the police union president questioned its effectiveness. Starting Monday, an officer trained in mental health crisis intervention will be paired with a Project Respond mental health care worker in a day-shift patrol car. They'll ride together in this "non-traditional partnership," mostly interacting with the chronically homeless and seriously mentally ill on the city's streets as part of a two-month pilot project.
The two-person car will also be available to assist other officers on calls. "We are involved in an experiment to see if that co-location, that collaboration adds value to the system," Chief Rosie Sizer said. "All of us have a common interest in reducing the number of encounters people who are mentally ill have with police." Sizer recognizes that the new mental health-police patrol unit, modeled after programs in Houston, Montreal, and White Plains, N.Y., is not a "panacea." Police hope to expand the program if it is successful. Houston police have seven patrol cars as part of its mental health unit. The Portland collaboration came in response to the 2006 death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., 42, who suffered from schizophrenia.