If I lived in Portland (Oregon), I'd be extremely wary of calling 911 if a mentally troubled person was causing a disturbance.
Recently a policeman shot an unarmed man in the back. Distraught over his younger brother's death, witnesses say Aaron Campbell was complying with police orders, but still was struck by beanbag rounds.
Ryan Pannell, who watched the shooting from his second-floor Sandy Terrace apartment, said it appeared that Campbell was cooperating, walking backward toward officers with his hands behind his head. He thinks police made the situation worse.
"By his actions, he (Campbell) just did what anybody would have done when they were shot from behind with beanbags," Pannell, 34, said. "He just reached back there to where he was shot, and headed away from the beanbags.
"They (police) are the ones that made him run. They are the ones that made him reach towards his back."
Why do Portlanders put up with repeated police incompetence?
About a week ago an officer sprayed pepper spray, instead of using a fire extinguisher, on a homeless man with psychiatric problems who had lit himself on fire. In 2006 James Chasse, a mentally ill man, died in police custody after being beaten by several Portland police officers. Back in 2000 Portland Copwatch reported on several emotionally distressed people who were killed by police.
Nothing ever changes.
The powers-that-be promise that officers will get more training in how to deal with mentally ill people. But the department's apparent shoot first and think later policy remains.
Protect and serve. Isn't this what being a police officer is all about? The Portland Police Department needs to go back to basics.
Killing unarmed citizens who are emotionally distraught isn't protecting or serving the public. Even the head of the police union, Scott Westerman, appears to recognize this. Referring to Aaron Campbell's killing, he said:
"Basically, we shot an unarmed black guy running away from us."
[Update: here's an example of a police officer from Hillsboro who showed courage and wisdom in defusing a dangerous situation involving a suicidal person. The Portland police force needs to have him do some training with them. In the excerpt below, Lt. Rouches is a Hillsboro police department spokesman. Stephen Beaver is the police officer.]
The man then went into a wood shed in the yard and when Beaver approached, the man yelled that he wanted to be killed and held up a large hunting knife at his face, the report said. The man then put down the knife and threw a molotov cocktail down at his feet, lighting the shed on fire, the report said.
Beaver wrote in the report that he didn't use a Taser on the man because he was afraid the charge would cause a fire, given the gasoline in the shed. Beaver grabbed the man from the shed, while another officer who had arrived helped Beaver cuff the man, the report said. According to the report, the man was asking Beaver to "kill him and put him out of his misery."
The man was not charged with a crime. Beaver transported him to the Portland Veterans Administration hospital on an officer's mental hold.
Rouches commended Beaver for taking a more cautious and less reactionary approach to the situation, saying, "lesser cops may not have acted so courageously."
"I look around at other agencies and think a lot of other agencies would have just shot the guy," Rouches said.