This Thursday, the Justice Department concluded a roughly year-long review review of the treatment of the mentally ill by the police in Portland, Oregon. The report, according to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, found that “there is reasonable cause to believe that [Portland Police Bureau] is engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people with mental illness, or those perceived to have mental illness.” The Seattle Times reported a few of the incidents that make up this pattern, including, but not limited to:
- The fatal shooting of an unarmed man threatening to kill himself. The investigation was sparked by the killing of Aaron Campbell by Portland police, who were only on the scene after receiving a call that Campbell was a suicide risk.
- The frequent, unnecessary tasering of the mentally ill. According to the Times, “[t]he investigation singled out stun-gun use, saying officers frequently discharged them without justification or used them too many times on a given suspect.”
- Using a level of force disproportionate to a mentally ill suspect’s purported crime. The allegations of undue force against people suspected of low-level crimes bothered Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, who said “Fundamentally, we have to treat people in mental-health crisis with compassion and empathy. We can’t treat them the same way we do somebody that’s committed a bank robber.”
The four million Americans who suffer from “severe psychiatric disorders” have recently had their access to health care reduced as a consequence of state budget cuts, though the Affordable Care Act makes significant improvements.