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Improved police training helps all

Our Opinion

As the city of Portland works to improve how its police officers interact with those suffering from mental illness, there are lessons to be learned - and relearned - from other cities grappling with the same issues.

As reported by Peter Korn in the Tribune last week, some other cities offer what might be better models for training officers in crisis intervention. The article's suggestion that training can be improved wasn't intended as a criticism of police. After all, more effective training will benefit all involved - including officers who put themselves in harm's way every day.

We disagree with those police critics who say officers are either heartless or trigger happy. Evidence of at least one officer's compassion toward the mentally ill was on display this week when it was revealed that Chris Burley, who was shot and wounded by a mentally ill man last year, has been spending the past few months as the officer assigned to the Mobile Crisis Unit - a program that pairs him with mental health workers who help people experiencing mental health crises.

Poor intentions are not the reason the Portland Police Bureau has found itself jumping from shooting crisis to shooting crisis in recent months, and even in recent weeks. But the bureau's training programs are among the factors to consider, and what the Tribune's reporting uncovered was the fact that other cities are having greater success with different models for training.

It's also possible that Portland's own form of training - the Crisis Intervention Team program - has strayed from its roots, losing focus as it attempted to train every officer in the bureau regardless of his or her suitability for dealing with the mentally ill.

Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese have pledged to improve the city's record in dealing with mental-health crises. An obvious place to start is with a thorough analysis of best practices in other cities. Recognizing that training could be improved is hardly an indictment of police.

Rather, better training is perhaps the most effective way to support officers while also lessening the chance that people who have little control over their actions will be shot due to confrontations with police.