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Seattle community service officers to help with service-related calls, freeing up cops

(KIRO Radio, Matt Pitman)

There’s been much talk about reforms at the Seattle Police Department, and one of those changes is the idea of using community service officers (CSOs). These officers are civilians and are not armed, and are meant to handle specific types of calls. What does the SPD hope to achieve with CSOs? Sergeant Kevin Nelson joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to discuss.

“The program went away in about 2004 because of a funding issue,” Nelson said. “So it was a very popular program back at that time. It was strongly supported by the community and the department. Officers really relied on the CSOs at that point in time to do some work to kind of supplement some of the field work that was actually happening back at that time.”

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“Just a quick example of some of the things they used to do that they no longer do: They used to assist with juvenile runaways, they used to take stolen bicycle reports, you know, some of those low-level offenses and crimes that would tie officers up,” Nelson explained. “They used to do those things in the past.”

The 2020 version of the CSO program is slightly different, but the drive is the same in helping officers and doing community outreach.

“So fast forward to 2020. We have approximately 13 total CSOs with two supervisors, and the nature of this job is to do community outreach, youth engagement, and diverting those citizens, the community members, to services that they need when there’s a gap,” Nelson said.

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Officers are sometimes not able to handle certain types of calls to the fullest extent when they have pending 911 or other priority calls. That’s where community service officers come in.

“When I talk about there’s a ‘gap in services,’ there’s often times where a police officer actually arrives at the scene and the needs of the community member may be totally social service related. Say, for instance, that they’re cold or hungry. There’s very little that officers can do sometimes when they have pending 911 calls or priority one calls pending,” he said.

“So what the [community service] officers are able to do is fill that gap, and officers can call them to that scene,” he added. “And they can provide the community member with either food, service, clothes, shelter, if we have that available. So we’re service connectors. That’s what the CSOs are actually doing.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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