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Vancouver police strive to avoid force

Dealing with unruly people a challenge

By
Published: February 24, 2010, 12:00am

Vancouver, Clark County and Portland law enforcement all use the same training program to interact in crisis situations with those who are mentally ill or disturbed.

The Crisis Intervention Training is based on a model created by the Memphis, Tenn., police department and has been adopted nationwide.

The sessions, Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Schanaker said, show officers what a person suffering from a breakdown or other crisis may be thinking.

“It’s been really good training,” he said, adding that it’s been helpful as deputies encounter more and more mentally ill suspects as state funding issues have cut the social safety net. “People who are historically institutionalized or in homes, or are medicated no longer are. We deal with them more frequently.”

Since 2003, about 80 Vancouver police personnel have gone through a 40-hour CIT course, said Vancouver Sgt. Kathy McNicholas, who coordinates the training. The goal is to have all city patrol officers complete the course, she said.

Vancouver, Clark County and Portland law enforcement all use the same training program to interact in crisis situations with those who are mentally ill or disturbed.

The Crisis Intervention Training is based on a model created by the Memphis, Tenn., police department and has been adopted nationwide.

The sessions, Clark County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Schanaker said, show officers what a person suffering from a breakdown or other crisis may be thinking.

"It's been really good training," he said, adding that it's been helpful as deputies encounter more and more mentally ill suspects as state funding issues have cut the social safety net. "People who are historically institutionalized or in homes, or are medicated no longer are. We deal with them more frequently."

Since 2003, about 80 Vancouver police personnel have gone through a 40-hour CIT course, said Vancouver Sgt. Kathy McNicholas, who coordinates the training. The goal is to have all city patrol officers complete the course, she said.

Officers Richard Rich and Mike Gralton, who were involved in disarming a man with a .45-caliber Ruger and large knife Thursday without using a weapon, both completed the CIT course, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

Clark County deputies complete 2.5 days of CIT work, Schanaker said.

All Portland police are also required to finish 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, Portland police spokeswoman Mary Wheat said.

"Our officers are trained very well in dealing with the mentally ill," she said. "Unfortunately, sometimes things do happen that go beyond the training."

The last officer-involved death in Vancouver was in 2007, when police shot Sean Makarowsky after he appeared at the window of his Northeast Vancouver home holding a loaded .40-caliber handgun with the safety off.

In 2006, Douglas Damon was killed when he pointed a realistic-looking toy gun at Detective Greg Raquer. Raquer was responding to complaints about homeless people camping out behind the Mill Plain Boulevard Walmart.

-- Andrea Damewood

Officers Richard Rich and Mike Gralton, who were involved in disarming a man with a .45-caliber Ruger and large knife Thursday without using a weapon, both completed the CIT course, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

Clark County deputies complete 2.5 days of CIT work, Schanaker said.

All Portland police are also required to finish 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, Portland police spokeswoman Mary Wheat said.

“Our officers are trained very well in dealing with the mentally ill,” she said. “Unfortunately, sometimes things do happen that go beyond the training.”

The last officer-involved death in Vancouver was in 2007, when police shot Sean Makarowsky after he appeared at the window of his Northeast Vancouver home holding a loaded .40-caliber handgun with the safety off.

In 2006, Douglas Damon was killed when he pointed a realistic-looking toy gun at Detective Greg Raquer. Raquer was responding to complaints about homeless people camping out behind the Mill Plain Boulevard Walmart.

— Andrea Damewood

It’s clear that things could have gone very differently.

Less than three weeks after 25-year-old Aaron Campbell was shot and killed by Portland police, sparking intense debate over police use of deadly force, Vancouver Police Department officers found themselves in a very similar situation, with an altered ending.

A 63-year-old diabetic man had been drinking all day, was yelling about getting his guns, and was last seen in his home’s “gun room,” a call to 911 reported Thursday night.

When officers arrived, the man came into his driveway, a “cowboy style” holster on his hip, armed with a gun on one side and a large knife on the other, according to the official report.

What happened next “speaks volumes” about the department’s high level of training and officer sensitivity, Vancouver Police Chief Cliff Cook said this week. But at least one other local law enforcement agency official says VPD officers made the wrong call.

Action, reaction

On scene last week at the home on the 9600 block of N.E. 21st Street, weapons drawn, police shouted for the armed man to raise his hands. But the man ignored their commands and kept walking toward them, swearing and shouting, according to a report written by Officer Richard Rich.

Rich drew his Taser, he wrote, but he didn’t think the electronic darts would penetrate the man’s thick jacket.

So instead, while the man was distracted, Rich got within six feet of him and leapt forward, grabbing the man’s gun from his holster. With another officer, Rich kicked the man’s legs out from underneath him and wrestled with the man until he was in handcuffs.

The man, whose name was not released because he was not charged with a crime, was arrested and brought to the hospital for mental evaluation.

Rich’s report says the gun Rich pulled from the man’s holster was a loaded .45-caliber Ruger.

Cook said he was pleased with the way his officers handled the incident.

“It’s a positive statement to the way this department handles this kind of situation,” Cook said. “It was serious enough to where it could have required a much more serious use of force.”

But Sgt. Scott Schanaker, spokesman for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said trying to disarm an agitated man with a gun is far too risky to an officer’s safety.

“That guy should have got shot,” Schanaker said. “Why would you guys put yourself at risk for that? Cops could have gotten killed.”

He said that if someone has a gun in a holster, “reaction is never going to beat their action.”

“You can’t beat them if they want to draw,” he said.

Police know their job is risky, he said, but there’s no reason they should die unnecessarily in dangerous situations.

Cook, however, defended his officer’s actions.

“I just don’t think Sgt. Schanaker was there,” he said. “We’re very concerned about the safety of officers and the lives of others. Our primary objective is the preservation of life.”

Managing responses

Vancouver police also cited a case Monday, where a knife-wielding employee of a Papa Murphy’s Take and Bake Pizza at 14201 Southeast Mill Plain Blvd. barricaded himself in the restaurant.

The 19-year-old man called police saying Satan had robbed him and that he had smoked pot, according to a report by Officer Ron Stevens. When Stevens arrived, the employee flipped him off and kicked in the glass door to a cooler. Food was strewn all over and a cash register had also been damaged, the report said.

As more officers arrived, the man began yelling racial slurs at an officer of Hawaiian descent, and displayed a chest tattoo that said “Brother Hood,” Stevens wrote. After trying to convince the man to come out, he went into the back of the store and returned with a large kitchen knife, which he then pointed at his stomach and head, before acting like he was going to cut his ear off, the officer wrote.

The man finally dropped the knife, but continued to do damage to the store and would not come out. The store’s manager told police that 10 to 12 more large knives were also in the back.

The employee was yelling about God, and went into the back once more before emerging naked, with cuts on his hands and feet, Stevens wrote.

Finally, police decided to distract the man, drawing him to one side of the store and then moving in. He was Tasered twice before he was handcuffed and taken to Southwest Washington Medical Center for evaluation. The store manager estimated he did about $7,500 in damage to the pizza shop.

“I think that training has been very helpful in dealing with these distraught individuals to avoid having them turn into violent confrontation,” Cook said.

Force ‘inescapable’

Cook wouldn’t comment specifically on the Portland police-involved shooting of Campbell, but he did bring it up as an example of how situations can go differently.

Campbell, who was reportedly despondent over the death of his brother, was unarmed at the time he was shot in the back by police on Jan. 29 following a standoff at a Northeast Portland apartment complex.

The incident has drawn national attention, with citizens, community activists and the Rev. Jesse Jackson protesting the killing, saying police lack adequate training and communication to handle such situations.

A grand jury found no criminal charges were justified in the shooting but released a three-page letter that said the Portland Police Bureau should be held accountable.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer discussed the shooting Tuesday during an hourlong interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Using force is an inescapable part of the job,” Sizer said.

But she acknowledged that many citizens want officers to do their best to not shoot.

“The expectation is for officers to take on to themselves more risk, for better outcomes for suspects,” she said. “To the extent that we can, if we can change some of our practices to keep both officers and suspects safer and reduce injuries, that’s the ideal set of circumstances.”

Portland Police spokeswoman Mary Wheat said Tuesday by phone that Vancouver police cannot compare with Portland.

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Of Thursday’s incident in Northeast Vancouver, she said, “we do that all the time.”

“We have a very different call load than Vancouver does,” Wheat said. “We deal with mentally ill subjects on an hourly basis.”

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