DOJ Says Portland (OR) Street Response Can Begin Responding to Suicide Calls

Four members of the Portland Street Response Team pose for a picture while sitting on stairs.
Four members of the Portland Street Response Team. (Photo/City of Portland)

Nicole Hayden


U.S. Department of Justice authorities said Tuesday that Portland Street Response, which dispatches a mental health worker and a paramedic to most mental health crisis calls in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood, can respond to suicide calls, a change from current policy.

A recent evaluation of the pilot non-police response program presented to Portland City Council recommended that the team be allowed to respond to suicide calls. The evaluation was conducted by Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative.

Initially, city and police officials said that the city’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, under an agreement designed to remedy the city’s mistreatment of individuals suffering from mental health crises, required police to respond to calls involving suicide, even when no one was reported to be armed.

Related: Portland (OR) Street Response Launches to Address Mental Health, Homeless Calls

But Jared Hager, assistant, U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice, clarified the rules during Tuesday’s Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing meeting.

“There is no term of the settlement agreement that requires the city of Portland to send an armed police response…to suicide calls,” Hager said. “That is not the only solution. We made clear that the city of Portland can, and indeed needs, to divert (mental health calls).”

However, the non-police team can’t expand the calls it can respond to until police union rules are re-negotiated during March labor negations. That means there will be at least a five-month delay before Portland Street Response can be used to assist individuals experiencing thoughts of suicide.

Also during Tuesday’s committee meeting, Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor of criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois, who was hired by Portland to monitor police reforms under the city’s settlement agreement, pointed out that the police bureau’s enhanced crisis intervention team, which responds to mental health calls, hasn’t been in compliance with the settlement because the number of officers on that team isn’t adequate.

“In November, they will be training a new (enhanced crisis intervention team) class…and that training should bring (the numbers) back up,” he said. Additionally, he said the police bureau and street response need to identify clear policy that outlines how the two interact.

The initial Portland Street Response team has includes a firefighter-paramedic, a licensed mental health crisis therapist and two community health workers. In the next six months of the pilot program, a second team will be added, but still just operate in the Lents neighborhood. By March, officials hope to have three teams on the street across the city.

Nicole Hayden reports for The Oregonian|OregonLive. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.

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