City council approves new crisis response program

Multnomah County

Medical responders will help people experiencing homelessness and mental health crisis

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Portland is getting ready to launch a new kind of emergency response program that could help people in crisis.

Portland City Council voted Thursday to approve the program, called Portland Street Response.

The pilot project aims to find a more effective way to address the rise in 911 calls related to people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.

Instead of sending police officers, Portland Street Response will send an EMT and crisis worker to some mental health and homelessness-related calls.

Portland Street Responders will go to calls where a person doesn’t have access to weapons, isn’t suicidal or violent. They will be recommended for calls like people outside yelling or intoxicated people, among other issues.

Supporters of the project say it’s a way to make the first responder system more effective, cut down on unnecessary arrests and help with the high number of 911 calls related to people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises.

The program is slated to begin in the spring of 2020 in the Lents Neighborhood.

Lents Park visitor Mandy Guth said the program is “a great idea.”

“I think if police officers have pressing issues — these are pressing issues, too — but I think that it’s great to have specific people for specific goals or calls,” said Guth.

The effort is being led by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and has been endorsed by hundreds of businesses, neighborhoods and individuals, according to recommendations released by Hardesty.

“Being homeless is not a crime, having a mental illness is not a crime, and addiction is not a crime. If there’s no crime, we don’t need law enforcement,” said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “Portland Street Response is a sea change in how we treat people in crisis—it will provide first responders who are equipped to deal with people experiencing behavioral health crises to deliver trauma-informed care and to connect individuals with desperately needed support and resources. I wholeheartedly endorse this vital program.”

Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner was skeptical of the program, saying it is “built on a false premise and preception that Portland police officers are ill-suited to address mental health and homelessness issues in a constructive and safe manner.”

In his statement, Turner said, “nothing could be further from the truth,” and officers routinely resolve issues effectively.

He added that time will tell whether the $500,000 pilot program will be a worthwhile investment.

Turner’s statement goes on to say:

“Even if the Street Response program is a success, it’s imperative that we continue to pave the way for PPB to successfully address the serious, ongoing livability issues in our neighborhoods. Our communities want clean and safe streets, neighborhoods, schools, and parks. It’s what they deserve. To meet those needs, we must recruit and retain our highly trained and skilled officers. We must have enough officers to respond to and investigate gun crimes, property crimes, and person crimes. We must have a fully staffed and fully funded Police Bureau that has enough resources to meet our communities’ needs. It’s common-sense public safety.

The pilot program will be evaluated after 6 months.

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