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Mayor Jenny Durkan Announces Proposal to Create a New Specialized Triage Response to Provide Alternative to Sworn Police Response

New specialized triage response will reduce need for armed police response to non-emergent calls like wellness

SPD will also expand successful Community Service Officer program

Seattle (July 23, 2021) – Building off of the City’s work to reimagine policing and community safety, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced a proposal to create a new specialized triage response that will provide an alternative model for some non-criminal 9-1-1 calls and reduce the need for a sworn officer response for some calls. The specialized responses will include professionals that are experts in outreach, behavioral health, and have tangible connections to the communities that they will serve. When at full capacity, this specialized response could respond to the potentially 8,000 – 14,000 non-emergency wellness check calls currently handled by sworn officers at the Seattle Police Department.

“Seattle residents expect and deserve a timely 9-1-1 response, and part of reimagining community safety means providing meaningful and effective alternatives to a sworn officer. Building off of the success of the Seattle Fire Department’s HealthOne model, the new specialized triage response will provide an alternative response to some 9-1-1 calls,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “This specialized triage response will be a critical resource as we work to address the needs of our communities while reducing the need for sworn officers to respond to things like wellness checks.. Together with the expansion of the City’s successful Community Service Officer program and ongoing expansion of HealthOne to three units, we are making real progress on our commitment to re-imagine public safety in Seattle.”

“Not every call to 911 requires an armed response.  The specialized triage response model proposal is both creative thinking and a data-informed innovation, providing a qualified response to folks who require assistance but do not represent a threat.  I am increasingly hearing from constituents who are asking for exactly this kind of option, to help their family, friends, and neighbor,” said Councilmember Herbold. “I have proposed funding in the second quarter supplemental budget for a new protocol dispatch system so dispatchers recently transferred by the Council from SPD to the Community Safety Communication Center can better deploy these new specialized triage responders. 911 call takers have been called the ‘gatekeepers for the entire criminal justice system.’.”

The new specialized triage response will be housed within the Seattle Fire Department Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program, and will respond directly to wellness check calls identified by 9-1-1 at the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC). Utilizing a new 9-1-1 call-taking protocol system, dispatchers will be furnished with a new alternative to sworn police response.

“The Seattle Police Department is dedicated to a safer and more equitable city by offering a wide range of community police services for all,” Chief Adrian Diaz said on Friday. “A majority of ‘persons down’ calls are people experiencing addiction or health crises, and when SPD responds, we still need to call another entity. Almost all these calls are not related to any criminal activity. With Triage One and an increase in the SPD’s Community Service Officers responding to these non-criminal calls, more sworn SPD officers in our already-diminished department will be freed-up to respond to crime.”

“The Community Safety/Communications Center is looking forward to adopting and implementing a question-and-answer protocol system that will better enable our 911 call-takers to proceed through a standardized interrogation process, resulting in each call being treated with more consistency from call taker to call taker.  A protocol system will further assist in the quality assurance process, enabling CSCC to further match questions and dispatched resources based on historical final dispositions,” said Chris Lombard, Director of the CSCC. “This new process will help operations by streamlining response, reducing bias among call takers, and ensuring crucial decision-making information is recorded. Additionally, this system could be built out further to also accommodate non-police response to incidents in the future.”

“The Seattle Fire Department is committed to providing the best possible care to the individuals we serve. We know firsthand from our successful experience with the Health One program that many calls to 911 do not require a traditional police or fire response, but rather alternative methods of care. With this new triage response model, we will help to fill a current gap in the 911 system and be better equipped as a City to respond to calls for welfare checks, “person down” incidents and more,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “The triage response model will fall under the Seattle Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health program and will work alongside as a compliment to the current and expanding Health One program.”

Internal analysis done by the Seattle Police Department and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) show that at least 11% of calls to our 9-1-1 call center can be responded to without the need for armed police involvement – this includes calls like wellness checks for individuals who do not need an urgent medical or safety intervention.

Historic levels of attrition have led to staffing shortages at the Seattle Police Department resulting in increasing call times and a more urgent need to increase resources for non-emergency call response. Over the past 17 months, the Seattle Police Department has lost over 250 officers and the capacity for over 300,000 service hours. The specialized response will be funded through strategic reinvestments of the Seattle Police Department personnel budget. Funds that the department is unable to spend due to historic losses of officers have been used to reinvest in an alternative 911 response models and administrative improvements and alternatives within the department such as Community Service Officers

Earlier this week, Mayor Durkan and the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) announced awardees of the 2021 Community Safety Capacity Building RFP. The City is providing $10.4 million in one-time funding for 18 months for 33 organizations working toward community-led solutions to end violence and increase safety in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. These investments will support organizations providing an array of programs, services, and upstream investments meant to improve outcomes and contribute to overall community safety and wellbeing.