Seattle plans to add a special response for 911 calls that don’t require regular, armed police officers, Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city officials said Friday.
Officials are still working on the details, and nothing will launch until next year at the earliest. The aim is to provide 911 dispatchers with a new option for certain calls, like wellness checks, that are associated with neither criminal nor medical emergencies, Durkan said.
The new response could look something like the city’s Health One program, which sends teams of firefighters and social workers to nonemergency medical calls, the mayor said. During a news conference held at Seattle’s emergency operations center near Pioneer Square, she said it might be called “Triage One.”
The idea is for Triage One to be housed in the Fire Department and be staffed by city employees who are not sworn police officers, the mayor’s office said. The responders will be trained in outreach, behavioral health, de-escalation techniques and how to navigate people to social services, she said.
“There is no one solution for community safety,” Durkan said. “We need to have a range of tools.”
Durkan intends to include funding for the new option in her 2022 budget proposal, which is due in September, she said, not yet quoting a price tag. There could be some initial funding allocated this summer. Triage One will start as a pilot program, with limited capacity, Durkan said. When Health One launched, in 2019, it had a single three-member team.
There are as many as 8,000 calls each year that the new response eventually could deal with, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said at Friday’s news conference. Herbold chairs the council’s public safety committee.
An analysis of Seattle’s 911 calls by the Durkan administration will be presented to the committee next week.
“We’re taking a deep dive into, ‘What are the calls police go to, what are the ones they really need to be at and how can we free up time for officers?'” Durkan said.
The Triage One concept is part of the city’s effort to “re-envision and reimagine what public safety looks like” after the racial justice protests that erupted in Seattle and across the country last summer.
“We hear you and agree that not every 911 call needs” an armed officer, interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz said.
Separate from the Triage One strategy, the Police Department hopes in 2022 to hire more community service officers — unarmed, civilian employees of the department who problem solve with residents and businesses, Diaz said.
Seattle has moved 911 dispatchers from the Police Department to a new Community Safety Communications Center. The center plans to adopt new question-and-answer protocols to help dispatchers choose the right response, said Chris Lombard, the center’s director.
Even with the Triage One approach, Seattle needs a more robust option for 911 calls related to mental-health crises that don’t pose threats, Herbold said.
The Downtown Emergency Service Center has a mobile crisis team that accepts referrals from the Police Department and other King County agencies. That team focuses on people experiencing homelessness, Herbold said.
Earlier this week, the city announced $10 million in grants for non-police safety work by 33 community organizations. The organizations will bring positive activities to neighborhood hot spots, provide de-escalation support after shootings and use other strategies to prevent violence and promote well-being.
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