Mike Reese took the oath of office as the new Multnomah County sheriff Wednesday.
In a speech, he promised to focus on restoring public trust in the office and improving treatment of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.
“Transparency and accountability are the core values that will guide the Multnomah County sheriff’s office. We have to be willing to hold ourselves accountable if we are to be trusted to hold others accountable.”
County commissioners approved Reese as the interim sheriff after outgoing Sheriff Dan Staton resigned in disgrace. Staton was accused of bullying staff and covering up a report that found racial bias in the use of force against jail inmates.
Reese, who served previously as Portland’s police chief, also spoke at length about the challenges of overseeing county jails that house many people with addiction and mental illness.
He described his experience encountering a man in crisis during a visit to the Multnomah County Detention Center a few weeks ago.
“We looked in on a prisoner who was in an isolation cell. He was obviously mentally ill and the staff were letting him calm down before attempting to process him so they didn’t have to use force,” Reese explained. “He was in custody because he had been running down a busy city street naked, in the middle of the day.”
Reese said the man had been discharged from a local hospital a few hours before and that police booked him on disorderly conduct because they had nowhere else to take him.
“This is not a humane and compassionate response to people in crisis. I don’t blame the police or corrections. This is a failure of our health care system to effectively treat a growing problem,” he said.
He pledged to work to increase the presence of heath care professionals working in Multnomah County jails, to improve crisis intervention training for jail staff, and to develop new policies to divert mentally ill people from jail and into treatment.
Reese said he plans to run for the county sheriff position for a full four year term in the upcoming November election.