Portland report shows more police calls related to mental illness, substance abuse

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck
Posted May 21, 2012, at 1:49 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — New research shows that more calls received by Portland police are related to mental illness and substance abuse than previous reports showed, according to the department’s annual report.

With a behavioral health specialist analyzing the narratives tied to each service call for the first time in 2011, the department saw a nearly 400 percent spike in calls officially tagged as being related to mental illness or substance abuse, according to the annual report, which was released Monday.

Portland police reported a drop in crime citywide for the second straight year in 2011, with violent crime falling by 22 percent compared with 2010 and property crime tailing off by 6 percent.

“2011 was in many ways a year of transition,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who officially was promoted to the department’s top job in early February, in a statement. “We had changes in leadership, implemented several successful new initiatives and as a result of effective and proactive police work experienced a second consecutive year of crime reduction.”

In 2011, Portland police recorded 200 violent crimes, which include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault or arson. That figure compares with 255 such crimes in 2010 and 257 in 2009.

The department saw homicide cases tail off from six in 2010 to two in 2011, robberies plummet from 119 to 86, and aggravated assaults tumble from 95 to 73. Those decreases kept the overall violent crime category down despite climbs in rape, from 33 in 2010 to 39 in 2011, and arson, which shot from six to 18 in a year.

Among incidents defined as property crimes, police reported that dropoffs in burglary — from 471 in 2010 to 411 in 2011 — and larceny — from 2,237 to 2,103 — more than offset a climb in motor vehicle thefts. The police recorded 90 cases of stolen autos in 2011, compared with 58 the previous year and 71 in 2009.

Perhaps the sharpest year-to-year change in the report came in the number of behavioral health calls for service. Using a 2010 federal grant for $184,000, the department had a behavioral health specialist review the narratives from all Portland service calls in 2011, analyzing for signs of mental illness or substance abuse.

With the extra layer of research, police were able to determine that more of their calls were behavioral health-related than ever previously recorded. The analysis created a 386 percent spike in officially determined behavioral health-related calls in 2011 versus 2010.

Of the nearly 85,000 service calls that came into the department in 2011, 1,653 were classified as behavioral health calls at the onset, and another 201 were classified as such by the responding officers after the initial calls. In previous years, that would have represented the entirety of the department’s behavioral health call statistics.

In 2011, the specialist added another 1,457 to the tally after reviewing case narratives and determining mental health or substance abuse ties.

“This [3,311 behavioral health call total] represents nearly 4 percent of all calls received by the department in 2011 and confirms the anecdotal belief that the volume of mental health related calls is much greater than evidenced by earlier data queries,” reads the department report, in part.

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