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Grants support two new Gresham Police Department programs which will better serve the community

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Sgt. Matt Clay, assigned to the Gresham Police Departments Mental Health Unit, speaks during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening, April 24.The Gresham Police Department held a town hall meeting to discuss two new initiatives — the implementation of body cameras and a new Mental Health Unit — that will allow officers to better serve the community.

Both initiatives were made possible through federal grants, and during the Tuesday evening, April 24, town hall meeting at Mt. Hood Community College, citizens had a chance to provide feedback and ask questions.

"It's important for us to be a part of this community and make it a better place to live," said Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells. "It's tough to be a cop these days, so we want to be able to know you before a critical incident occurs."

Body cameras

Gresham police Capt. Claudio Grandjean shared more information on where the department is on implementing cameras. Funding was secured through a Department of Justice Federal matching grant for $165,000, which will be used to purchase the hardware.

Now Gresham has to come up with policy and procedure on how officers will use the cameras and where the data will be stored. Federal law states officers must film when there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause through the end of contact — though there are some cases that could be excluded, such as in schools or hospitals.

"If you don't want to be recorded, it will depend on if the officer is able to turn off the camera during the situation," Grandjean said.

Officers will have to announce when they are recording, unless it jeopardizes their safety or harms an investigation.

The officers will be unable to edit or delete videos, but in most cases can use the footage to inform their after-action reports.

"The video will belong to the department, not the officers," Grandjean said.

The district attorney's office will have access to the footage to use during a criminal case, and the public also will be able to request the videos — though they will have to give a specific time and place.

While the idea behind the cameras is that it will help officers and clear up any controversies that occur, Grandjean warns that the footage won't always be able to provide definitive answers.

"In a dynamic situation, a single video won't always give a definitive answer," he said.

The camera won't be following an officer's eyes and some danger cues, like changes in breathing, can't be recorded. Compression during storage could drop frames.

"A camera encourages second-guessing, and an officer may be acting on only 10 percent of the information during an encounter," Grandjean said. "A camera can never replace a thorough investigation."

There is no current timeline as to when the cameras will be implemented.

Mental Health Unit

Across the United States, about 10 percent of 911 calls have a mental health aspect — though many local officers feel that number should be higher. Sometimes officers aren't equipped to deal with someone experiencing a mental health crisis, which is why the Gresham Police Department has decided to form its newest unit.

The Mental Health Unit will be supervised by Lt. Kyle Lewis, and run by Sgt. Matt Clay, who began his new duty on April 1.

"We are assessing our response to mental health, and there are a lot of places we can improve," said Clay, who has been busy setting up policy and procedure.

The unit, which was supported by a $300,000 Department of Justice grant, will eventually include two clinicians from Cascadia Behavioral Health working half-time in Gresham, a newly hired officer dedicated to mental health, and psychiatric nursing students from OHSU interning with the program.

While the unit is still being formed, better training has already begun for all the officers in Gresham. They are going through an eight-hour mental health first aid course, which will allow them to better identify and help someone suffering from mental illness.

"This group will work in conjunction with our officers to provide better support to the vulnerable in our community," Lewis said.

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