Seattle PD Improved Response to Crisis Calls, Report Finds

     A federal monitor overseeing the Seattle Police Department has found “a real, tangible, and objective change in the way Seattle police are interacting, compassionately and with an eye towards treatment, with those in crisis.”
     SEATTLE (CN) – A federal monitor overseeing the Seattle Police Department has found “a real, tangible, and objective change in the way Seattle police are interacting, compassionately and with an eye towards treatment, with those in crisis,” according to the latest report on police reforms.
     Seattle police were placed under a consent decree in 2012 after an 11-month Justice Department investigation found routine use of excessive force and civil rights violations. The department must comply with the decree, which includes court-mandated changes like a revised use-of-force policy and crisis-intervention training for officers, by 2017.
     Court-appointed monitor Merrick Bobb released the new assessment Tuesday.
     Seattle is the only major police department in the country tracking the “nature and outcomes” of officer encounters with people in behavioral crisis, according to the report.
     The report defines a behavioral crisis as someone impaired by mental illness, drugs or alcohol.
     Before the Justice Department intervened, SPD had no set crisis-intervention policy, the report says.
     “Specifically, there was no overarching policy governing response to and performance in crisis events; no crisis-intervention committee that brought together key community stakeholders to collaboratively and collectively address community and interagency issues; no ongoing, structured crisis-intervention training program; no experienced, trained, and dedicated certified CIT officers; and no centralized organizational structure to implement a strategic and coordinated approach to policing those in crisis.
     “Perhaps most importantly, there was no commitment or vision from the top of the department on how it intended to respond to individuals experiencing or exhibiting signs of a behavioral crisis. This, unfortunately, was not atypical of many similarly situated departments around the country,” the report says.
     Bobb says in the past three years the department has made significant changes in its crisis response.
     SPD now has a crisis-intervention program with a full-time coordinator, trains every officer in basic crisis interaction and collects data on each crisis call.
     The report analyses data between June and August 2015 to show officers responded to an average of 27 crisis calls per day.
     “This puts the department on track for around 10,000 crisis contacts per year. That number demonstrates the enormous workload that crisis calls create for the SPD,” the report says.
     Data shows that officers use force against individuals in crisis less than two percent of the time and when they do use force, 80 percent of the time they use the lowest level of force – and did not once use the highest level of force even in high-risk situations.
     The department is also moving away from arresting and jailing people in crisis and is instead placing them in treatment facilities, according to the report.
     “While our assessment naturally identified areas where continued improvement can be made, the tremendous work of the department in this area is to be commended. The mental health crisis is by no means unique to Seattle. However, through the department’s good work and collaboration with community providers, there has been a real, tangible, and objective change in the way Seattle police are interacting – compassionately and with an eye towards treatment – with those in crisis. We look forward to continued advances in the crisis intervention program over the coming year,” Bobb wrote.
     “Police officers in Seattle are expected to make 10,000 contacts with people in crisis this year, and each of those encounters presents real and unique challenges to public safety and officer safety,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington said in a statement.
     “In the past, many interactions with people in crisis resulted in force being used, but organizational and operational changes around crisis intervention, including training officers and empowering them to use discretion and de-escalation, are making a real difference. SPD has embraced best practices and are approaching and resolving crisis situations in ways that increase safety and reduce the use of force.”
     The next assessments to be filed in March include an examination of SPD’s early intervention system and three use of force-related assessments covering officer uses of force, use-of-force data and officer activity level.

%d bloggers like this: