Lents neighbors learn about Portland Police’s Behavioral Health Unit

INCLUDES MEETING VIDEO | Discover the proactive steps our law enforcement agency is taking to effectively and humanely interact with those who act out negative behavioral issues. And, find out how you can enjoy a free dinner on June 8 …

Folks arrive at the May Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting, and listen to the presentations at LNLA’s new location – it’s still in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

During the time that their longtime meeting place on Mt. Scott is being remodeled, members and guests of the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA) met further west on May 11 – but still in the Lents neighborhood, at the Lents Activity Center.

Some 20 people attended the meeting – and many availed themselves of the cookies and snacks set out for them at the entry table in the hall.

Burnt-out headlight crusader

CNBSeen’s Don Merrill talks about his program, and his desire to partner with LNLA to bring it to the Lents neighborhood.

Their first guest speaker was Don Merrill of CNBSeen (See & Be Seen) who told the group, in so many words, that he believes that police officers “profile” drivers. He said that, based on a vehicle infraction – such as a burnt out taillight or headlight – leads to “frivolous traffic stops” and “needless deaths”, in his view.

He said he was hoping that he could set up an event hosted by the LNLA where people, primarily of color, can come and have their burnt-out vehicle lights replaced without charge, to avoid what he believes would lead to negative interactions with police officers.

All about the PPB’s Behavioral Health Unit

PPB’s SCT Program Manager Emily Rochon and BHU supervisor, Lieutenant Christopher Burley begin their presentation.

Two members came to speak about the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) and Service Coordination Team (SCT) that evening.

Representing the PPB BHU was its supervisor, Lieutenant Christopher Burley; and speaking for the SCT was it’s Program Manager Emily Rochon.

BHU Overview
Burley and Rochon started off by telling those present about the Behavioral Health Unit’s mission: That being to coordinate the responses of law enforcement and the behavioral health system to aid people in behavioral crisis resulting from known or suspected mental illness, and or drug and alcohol addiction.

The BHU oversees the four tiers of PPB’s multi-layered police response to individuals with mental illness or in behavioral crisis. These layers include:

  • The core competency of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for all patrol officers
  • The Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT), a group of volunteer officers that respond to mental health crisis calls
  • The proactive Behavioral Health Response Teams (BHRT)
  • The Service Coordination Team (SCT)

Burley explained that ECIT Certification is a voluntary certification – received by officers in addition to the rest of their currently-assigned duties.

Unknown number of repeat contacts
“These officers are specifically drawn to helping the community,” noted Burley. “They do it because it’s a genuine interest of theirs to learn how to better listen to people, how to de-escalate situations, how to inform the people they contact, and do it using less force to resolve situations peacefully.”

After the in-depth explanation of what CIT involves, and what the ECIT, BHRT, and SCT do, the presenting officers asked for questions.

To watch their entire presentation, watch the YouTu.be presentation of this LNLA meeting:

Statistics about whom, was helped with what, are not available due to HIPPA regulations, says SCT Program Manager Emily Rochon.

Asked how many individuals repeatedly require “service”, “It’s complicated; everybody wants to know those numbers,” Rochon replied. “However, the bureaus and organizations that work with this are not allowed to ‘talk to each other’ because of medical confidentiality laws.”

Burley added, “But, over time, we find that these interventions keep people from hurting themselves. And we’re definitely doing better than other cities in such work.”

Lieutenant Burley tells of the situations faced by ECIT officers.

Challenges facing ECIT officers
After the meeting, Lieutenant Burley stayed for a brief interview with East Portland News.

When we asked for the most challenging facet of being an ECIT officer, Burley replied, “As seen in the community meeting here tonight, clearly neighbors want solutions. They want to see that people are getting the help that they need. Neighbors want to make sure that not only is that person getting the help that they need, but that their family – that individual calling 911 because of a problem – is safe also.”

He continued, “With really limited resources right now, this can be difficult. It can be tough to get to the end of a call [for service] and feel it’s really resolved, like everybody’s in a better place.

“People come into the police profession is because we want to make things better. A lot of officers right now are in a situation where they end up writing up the report, or end up clearing the call – and are still asking themselves ‘Did I really it better in the situation that I was called here for?’

Meth still a challenge
“The ECIT ‘officer on the street’ is still faced with dealing with those using illicit or illegal drugs,” Burley pointed out. “I think the methamphetamine epidemic is a really complicated issue for us. We are responding to situations where people are experiencing two or more ‘internal stimuli’ – maybe hearing voices, or are feeling extremely paranoid – they are exhibiting signs of someone in a mental health crisis, whether or not they are actually using drugs.

“We get that person to the hospital, and because of state law, they can’t hold the person anymore,” Burley went on. “So, the person goes back out into the community and continues the same behavior that generated the police call in the first place. And the cycle is happening time and time again.”

Although a person’s substance use might trigger behavioral issues, officers cannot be informed if the person they’ve taken off the street is taking drugs. “We’re not privy to information if the person having a metal health crisis[because of being] on drugs. The reality is that there are a lot of folks who will have a mental illness, who may or may not also be using drugs.

“Although officers want to help the person, and desire to make the community a better place – we realize that we’re coming into roadblocks,” continued Burley. “One roadblock is getting the person to change their behavior, to change their environment in which the person is causing problems.”

Lieutenant Burley advises those who call 9-1-1 for help ask for a trained mental health crisis officers.

See a problem? call 9-1-1
The most important thing that people should know about their work, Burley advised, “If a family member, or if you observe someone in your neighborhood, is in a mental health crisis, leading you to call to 9-1-1 – when you do so, ask the operator for an ‘Enhanced Crisis Intervention’ officer. Or, just ask for one of those ‘specially-trained mental health crisis officers’ and the dispatcher will know who to send.”

LNLA’s next meeting is June 8

This live and in person meeting is from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.

This month: Dinner from BIRRIERIA PDX will be served, starting at 6:30 p.m., before the meeting begins.

Speakers: Former Portland Police East Precinct Commander, Mike Crebs – who is now with City of Portland Parking Enforcement – and either or both John Wheeler or Christopher Nero of PBOT Parking Enforcement, will speak about parking issues.

NOTE ITS LOCATION CHANGE: Lents Activity Center, 8815 SE Woodstock Boulevard, 97266. The gate will be open at 6:15 PM and the parking lot is available for parking. For more information, email lnla2018@gmail.com.

© 2023 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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