Members of Portland’s Police Department have become expert at dealing with people in mental health crises, and their expertise has been noticed.

The U.S. Department of Justice has identified Portland as one of six Law Enforcement/Mental Health Learning Sites in the nation, to which other departments can come for training with Portland officers and the nonprofit service providers with which Portland has formed partnerships.

Learning how to respond to a mental health crisis is clearly an important skill for the members of any police agency. Portland reports a 28 percent increase in the number of contacts between its officers and people with mental illness this year alone. Providing the training on a regional basis makes sense because every department in the area does not have the time to develop this expertise.

But unless mental illness itself is increasing at such an alarming rate, policymakers should examine why so much is being asked from law enforcement in this arena.

Part of the increase may be that police officers are sensitized to mental illness and recognize symptoms, whereas before they may have seen only belligerence.

But it could also be that holes in the safety net are leaving police officers to respond to what are really health care or social service deficits. These are complex problems that are not just a job for the cops.