A Portland (Oregon) grand jury had the guts to say what was obvious to everyone but the city's police department: officers are killing mentally disturbed people unnecessarily because their training is deficient and communication is lacking.
A grand jury found Aaron M. Campbell shouldn't have died on Jan. 29, but was killed because of critical police errors, including no central command, lack of communication between officers and training that teaches officers how to shoot without key decision-making skills.
The conclusions were contained in a three-page letter the jury released Thursday.
"As a group, we are outraged at what happened at Sandy Terrace. We know something went terribly, terribly wrong at Sandy Terrace and that Aaron Campbell should not have died that day," the jury wrote, referring to the apartment complex where Campbell was killed. "We feel strongly that something must be done to correct this, and the Portland Police Bureau should be held responsible for this tragedy."
The jury failed to charge Officer Ronald Frashour with a crime, because Oregon law allows police to claim that they believed another person had a gun, or otherwise was a danger, even if this wasn't the case.
This law should be changed to some sort of "reasonable person" rule, or require that the officer provide objective evidence of the danger that led him or her to kill someone who was a supposed threat.
In my first post about the killing of Aaron Campbell, I lamented the obvious lack of training in the Portland Police Department. Other jurisdictions manage to deal with unarmed mentally disturbed people without killing them.
Today the Oregonian editorial board called for a full and open investigation of Campbell's death. Good for them.
In their letter, though, the grand jurors were telling us that city, police and community leaders must go beyond this incident and more broadly assess the quality of the Police Bureau's training and procedures for use of deadly force.
The grand jurors' point about teamwork is particularly striking and speaks directly to bureau procedures that need to be revisited. The jurors were concerned that individual officers have enough information to act reasonably in the situation, but also have enough organization and oversight that force decisions come, as much as possible, as the result of command decisions, not individual reactions made in an information vacuum.
I don't understand why Portlanders have put up with a "shoot first, think later" police department for so long.
Hopefully this will change soon, so citizens don't have to fear for the lives of loved ones (or strangers) who aren't a threat to others, but are creating a disturbance that leads someone to call 911.