Police hit the streets with mental health team

Police hit the streets with mental health team

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by KGW staff

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kgw.com

Posted on February 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Updated Sunday, Feb 17 at 10:35 AM

PORTLAND -- Years after the death of James Chasse, controversy remains over how Portland police handled the arrest of the mentally ill man.

Chasse's death led to settlements totaling $2.5 million from the city and county and prompted changes in the way Portland police deal with the mentally ill.

Taking a page from community policing, officers now try to get to know those in trouble and offer help.

In the garage beneath central precinct, officer Bret Burton and his social worker partner Cindy Hackett prepare to hit the streets. Burton and Hackett are a unique pair, they are the only two in Portland with just one focus: to find and help people with mental illness.

“That’s one of the big things that we do as the mobile crisis unit. We get to know these people as human beings. We talk to family members about their concerns," Burton said.

On Friday, they were looking for a man in his mid 40s who recently got out of the state mental hospital. They worry he's not getting the help he needs.

As the only mental health team on the streets each day, the partners get many calls. The need is great, and no one knows that more than officer Burton.

On Sept. 17, 2006, Burton was one of three officers who tackled James Chasse in Portland’s Old Town as Chasse ran from them.

“It was a tragic day. And something I think about every day," Burton said. “It’s definitely something that's changed my life and changed the way we do police work here in the city."

They later learned Chasse had schizophrenia.

“I still don’t know how to make sense of it to be honest with you. So, I'm still working on that,” Burton said.

Chasse died in police custody. Now officer Burton spends his time trying to avoid a similar result.

Portland police plan to add two more police-social worker cars to the streets along with training at least two dozen officers in enhanced crisis intervention techniques.

KGW reporter Pat Dooris contributed to this report.

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