PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Street Response, the city’s unarmed team of emergency responders who are trained to assist in mental health crises or when people are intoxicated, has a goal of reducing the number of calls police officers traditionally respond to.
When the program expanded citywide on March 28, Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell said the team’s work in the Lents Neighborhood had freed up officers to respond to other important calls.
While the service is taking on some of the calls police were once sent to, there are still times when the public might call 911 hoping Portland Street Response will respond, but the situation also requires a police presence.
Portland Street Response will be dispatched to situations where a person is experiencing a mental health crisis or where a person is intoxicated as long as they are either outside or inside a publicly accessible space.
They will also be sent to calls where a person is down outside and not checked, a person is outside and yelling, or to a person who needs a referral for services but does not have access to a phone.
In situations where the person of concern has a weapon, is being violent, is in traffic, is suicidal, or is inside a residence, other first responders such as police officers, firefighters or paramedics could be sent to the scene or sent to assist Portland Street Response.
Caryn Brooks, the communications manager for Portland Street Response, gave the example of a person experiencing a mental health crisis while in traffic. In a case like this, police would respond to help redirect traffic.
First responders are dispatched based on the information given by a 911 caller.
Brooks hopes the fact that police officers may respond to situations will not discourage people from calling dispatch. She said they’re all trying to get help to people who need it.
To help ensure the appropriate first responders are sent to a situation, Brooks said 911 callers need to provide as much information as possible. She said the Bureau of Emergency Communications will ask callers if they see a weapon or any sort of pointed object. Callers should do their best to describe what’s going on.
Since February 16, 2021, Portland Street Response has responded to 3,402 calls. Of those, Portland Street Response has requested the assistance of police 52 times, firefighters 13 times and paramedics 84 times.
In situations where police were requested, officers have only issued citations three times.
Other agencies can also request Portland Street Response to assist them. Police officers have requested Portland Street Response’s help 68 times. Firefighters have called for them 33 times and paramedics have asked for them six times.
There has only been one situation when police requested Portland Street Response and the person involved was arrested. This is all according to data posted on the Portland Street Response Dashboard.
In its 2022 strategic goals, Portland Street Response says it hopes that less than 3% of its calls will result in a request for police assistance.
Portland Street Response is staffed 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Brooks reminds the public that if they are experiencing a mental health crisis, they can also call the Multnomah County mental health crisis line at (503) 988-4888. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.