The Plumas County sheriff’s Department in California is facing criticism for a new policy that has been initiated — their officers will no longer respond to suicide calls.
Carol Quinn learned of the recently enacted policy when she had contacted the Sheriff’s Department to intervene before her brother could take his own life.
Carol’s brother, George Quinn, 63, lived alone with his Maine Coon Cat in a remote Northern California community. The day he decided to take his own life he sent a text message to his sister, apologizing to her, and advising her to contact police.
Living over an hour away in Reno, Carol made a phone call to the Sheriff’s office, hoping they would respond and save her brother’s life. But Carol was shocked to learn that deputies would not be responding to intervene.
Carol was told by the department, that they would not be responding as there was no way to be certain that the situation would not end in “suicide by cop”.
While Plumas County may be the department involved in bringing this type of policy national attention, they are not the only department in the state of California that are considering changing their response policies to reflect this.
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Large departments like Los Angeles and San Francisco have units that were specifically created to respond to calls of distressed or suicidal individuals. They typically consist of an officer and a mental health professional. A unit that has the tools to deal with the potential mental health aspects of this type of call.
Smaller departments do not have the funds or the staffing to put together these types of teams. Rather than risking the lives of officers or innocent bystanders, and potentially creating situations where officers may be forced to take the life of a distressed individual–if there are no direct threats to other individuals, or no crimes being committed–they will no longer respond.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
“In a 2009 study of more than 700 officer-involved shootings nationwide, 36% of incidents were determined to be attempts at provoking officers to use deadly force.”
While some critics feel that, ‘suicide by cop’ is only a mean to justify police brutality, other studies have shown up to half of the calls where police respond to a suicidal person, they are forced to take the persons life.
Even though there is criticism of this type of change in the way departments respond to these calls to service, there are many who defend law enforcement’s need to rethink how these situations are handled.
Psychiatry Professor, John Reid Meloy, from UC San Diego defends policy changes stating to the Los Angeles times:
“Police are right in assessing these [calls] are significantly dangerous”.
This is a call to service that comes in to departments all too often.
Plumas County may be one of the first departments in California to officially enact this type of policy but California Police Chiefs Association President, Ron Lawrence, has acknowledge that other departments have less formal but similar ways of handling these types of calls.
Not responding to the need for their assistance may go against everything officers intuitively feel but Lawrence went on to explain to the Times reporter, “…we have just learned through evolution that sometimes police presence is not the answer.”
While there are officers that wonder, what if it was someone that they cared for that was making the call for help in a situation like this, a greater discussion about mental and behavioral health has been initiated because of these new policy changes. Admittedly, police alone cannot hope to resolve the growing need for response to suicidal individuals.
Larger departments in California are putting funds and greater efforts behind ‘disengagement’ response policies. A collaborative effort between officers and mental health clinicians that are dispatched together to a call of a suicidal person, have proven to work to diffuse the situation and end where the suspect receives the mental health help that they need.
This type of efforts between first responders and mental health providers may be the ideal situation for these types of calls, but many of the smaller departments do not have the ability to put these teams together, just based on geographical location alone.
Mono County Sheriff’s office near Yosemite National Park is one of those very departments. Ingrid Braun, sheriff of the department explained to the Los Angeles Times, “the nearest emergency mental health bed in her county is five hours south in Bakersfield, and the county currently has no behavioral health practitioners who can respond to urgent calls.”
However not responding to suicide calls is not an ideal solution for her department, so she is working on having medics respond to these types of calls along with officers.
There is acknowledgement that the greater discussions need to take place amongst officers and mental health professionals to combat the growing need for officers to respond to suicidal individuals. Braun brings to light that, the response of just officers alone to these types of calls may not be the best way to handle the situation, “If you call because you are bottoming out and you need help, we send men with guns…’
The executive director of the non-profit, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, Dan Reidenberg, also acknowledges that there are risks to officers responding to these types of calls, but no response at all is not the answer either. Reidenberg stated to the Times:
“I don’t think it’s the right precedent or the right policy…We need law enforcement to be that stable, protective, strong force that shows up.”
There are growing fears that the lack of response by law enforcement to these types of calls will rapidly increase the rate of suicides—which has already been on the rise in recent years.
As for Carol Quinn, she and her friend Pat Costin, ultimately made the hour-long drive to her brother’s house the day police would told her they would not respond to Carol’s request to intervene in her brother’s potential suicide. Pat was the one to find George Quinn hanging from the rafters of his wood shop by a chain–dead.
After discovering the body, Pat contacted the Plumas Co. Sheriff’s Department to report that, it was “safe for them to come now.” Pat went on to further explain that, unlike police officers, he was never trained to handle the situation that he walked into.
Pat explained that the images of his friend hanging haunt him, and he is happy that Carol did not need to see what he had found.While he and Carol are both police supporters, they disagree with the nonresponse policy, something needs to change.
In April, Portland, Oregon lost a huge chunk of its police presence.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts wrote an email to his deputies, stating his concern for their safety.
“I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk,” the email read.
The city of Portland is largely patrolled by the Portland Police Bureau and receives support from neighboring counties like Clackamas Sheriff’s Department. With this decision, remaining officers in the area will no doubt feel the stress of being understaffed.
The announcement came as Portland was bracing for its next protest – May Day, where a protest for immigrant and worker’s rights was set for downtown. In 2017, 25 people were arrested in the gathering after the rally turned into a violent clash.
VIDEO: 'Riot' Erupts in Portland, Ore. May Day Protest pic.twitter.com/IOr2g4qQId
— azcentral (@azcentral) May 2, 2017
Demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct, arson, theft, assault, vandalism and more. Officers maintaining order at the march were quickly attacked by left wing anarchists who threw full cans of soda and other projectiles.
The decision to stop responding to routine calls was made following a statement released by the Portland Police Association.
Due to the overwhelming ‘anti-police’ attitudes in the city of Portland, some officials are stepping in to say ‘no more.’ Enter – Sheriff Craig Roberts.
“The reason the Police Bureau is experiencing catastrophic staffing shortages, drastically declining recruiting success, and the inability to retain officers is due to one core issue: the intense anti-police sentiment in our City that City Council seems to share,” the post from the PPA read.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is concerned. He asked Sheriff Roberts to wait to enact his decision until after the May Day protest, but failed.
“ICE is responsible for terrorizing & imprisoning the migrant community of PDX.” #Antifa #Portland is organizing a May Day protest against border enforcement “fascism” on Wednesday at 1 pm at Elizabeth Caruthers Park. pic.twitter.com/Lp5dtvNyTi
— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) April 29, 2019
“My own belief on this is pulling out a few days before sends a signal that people who might come to those demonstrations with the intention of doing harm, potentially vandalism, it send a signal that the Portland Police Bureau is going to be under-resourced. I was hoping he could hold off until after the May Day demonstrations but I was unable to persuade him to do that,” Wheeler said.
“False narratives, knee jerk political reactions, along with personal and political agendas have created a hostile work environment and made it an impossible task to effectively police in the City of Portland. Our police officers are frustrated. They deserve better. They deserve to work in an environment where they can perform their primary function — keeping our communities safe — with the support of City Hall. Similarly, our communities are frustrated. They deserve better. They deserve safe, clean streets. It’s that simple,” the PPA’s post read.
“Our elected officials need to prioritize basic city services, the most basic of which is public safety and livability. They can start by doing three things: improving the livability of our drastically deteriorating neighborhoods; supporting the incredible work our officers do to keep our communities safe; and having enough police officers to satisfy our communities’ public safety needs.”
Portland officer have repeatedly been told to stand down during past protests. Mayor Wheeler tends to side with the liberal agenda, taking protests as just people expressing their feelings. But things have gotten violent a number of times.
I had actually looked into applying for Portland at one point. But when I saw the protests and mayhem over there I immediately pulled my interest. I see enough of that here, but Portland is a whole different level of anti-Police.
— T.J. Young (@LEOTJYoung) April 30, 2019
LET columnist James Lewis is a former LEO and served in the Air Force. He used to live in a suburb outside Portland, and is upset to see the way it has changed over the years. One of the biggest issues in the area?
The Police Commissioner also sits as the City Manager. Conflict of interest? Many say yes. The same individual that is supposed to be the head of local law enforcement is also making daily decisions about city works, budgets and more. Portland heads even consulted the head of Black Lives Matter when creating the 2019 contract for police.
“Portland used to be a really cool place,” Lewis said about the city. “It had a really strong logging and logistics industry. It changed a little when I was there in the 90’s, but since I’ve left, it’s gotten a hundred times worse.”
Lewis says companies like Intel and Nike drew lot’s of families from California up to the city. Those families stayed, thus leading to a big change in culture.
“It won’t get any better until the commissioner is removed,” said Lewis.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department also made a similar move in February, announcing they would be be providing less support for Portland calls.
Sheriff’s Roberts’ email to his deputies can be read in full below.
Sheriff’s Office Change in Services within the City of Portland
To all Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office employees: I want to give you an important update on changes to services we provide in the City of Portland.
As you know, our command staff and executive team have been actively assessing the risk of your work within the City of Portland.
Recently, Undersheriff Brandenburg met with many of our deputies assigned to answering routine calls for service in the City of Portland to listen to their concerns related to safety. I’ve also had conversations with other city, state and federal law enforcement leaders, including Portland Police Chief Outlaw. Lastly, I’ve taken into account the Portland Police Association’s concerns outlined in their April 8 statement, which you can read here.
As I said in my earlier email on this topic, I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk.
As a result of these and other assessments, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office will pull back all staff responding to calls for services within the City of Portland in the coming weeks. Those actions are as follows:
We are working with TriMet to develop a new Intergovernmental Agreement that will reassign deputies to meet the public safety needs of citizens accessing TriMet within Clackamas County. We intend to continue assigning one sergeant and six deputies to provide timely responses for law enforcement services and maintain passenger safety.
With respect to deployment of special teams, we will evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis. This applies to SWAT, the Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT), and the Rapid Response Team (RRT/CERT).
We will continue our participation on the United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
No changes will be made to operations involving Corrections staff who work the Electronic Home Detention Program, Parole and Probation staff who supervise clients in the City of Portland, and the Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit (MEDU). All will continue with their regular duties.
I don’t make these decisions lightly. I appreciate and commend the difficult work Portland Police officers do every day, and I also commend Portland Police Chief Outlaw for her leadership in a very difficult environment. I admire her commitment to improving public safety and community relations.
As Sheriff, your safety and the safety of Clackamas County residents remain my top priorities. Our work is dangerous enough without adding unnecessary risk when responding to calls for services in the City of Portland.
I also want to make this clear: We will always respond to help any officer from any agency in immediate need of assistance.
Take care of each other and be safe. Craig