Law enforcement reforms regarding the mentally ill show gradual improvement
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Portland, Oregon, recently made news with law enforcement reform efforts regarding mentally ill citizens. Six years ago, the city pledged to make police reforms mandated by the federal government.
The city has declared those efforts a success, though it has admitted that work at the state and local levels need improvement. These reforms are intended to curb excessive force against mentally ill people, a pressing issue that departments across the nation need to analyze and improve.
The 2010 shooting of an unarmed suicidal man kick-started the review process. Investigators found a disturbing pattern of the Portland police violating the civil rights of people with mental illness and using excessive force against them.
Since 2014, Portland police have been under review and have had their progress monitored by federal courts. The department’s use-of-force reporting, misconduct investigations, training, and community engagement were some of their criteria covered by the judicial process. Now the city claims to have fulfilled these federal requirements in most of the areas, but not all thought-groups agree.
Police reforms take time, and whether detractors agree or not, every tiny bit is a step in the right direction towards increasing accountability. Officers have undergone training, learned new skills, and accept critique, as they continuously strive to improve and learn to be held accountable.
Local mental health systems need to complement these efforts by connecting with the state- and local-level officers. They need to discuss the reforms in caring for people struggling with mental health issues. Awareness and knowledge can help minimize unfortunate shootings and help rebuild trust with the community.
And unfortunately, reforms are not just for dealing with the mentally challenged and the differently abled; police departments across the country have had an unfortunate history of dealing with minorities as well.
The ACLU reported a horrifying Arizona incident a few months back when a 15-year-old quadruple amputee was the recipient of police brutality. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-familiar occurrence of a police officer using far more force than necessary. Not all police departments are respecting the communities they are charged with serving, which is symptomatic of a crisis in policing in America.
Yet, discrediting liberalized law enforcement initiatives may lead to another significant civil rights crisis. Not recognizing incremental improvements could mean increased mass incarceration; racial disparities; a lack of protection for stigmatized or marginalized minorities; not pursuing correction for judicial error or other forms of systemic failure; and, most of all, not aggressively pursuing charges in cases of shootings by police officers.
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