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Seattle City Council votes to transfer 911 operations away from police

A barrier stands outside of the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In a 7-0 vote on Monday, the Seattle City Council has approved transferring 911 operations away from the Seattle Police Department.

The vote means that 911 call center operations will move out of SPD to the civilian controlled Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC).

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The process began at the tail end of the 2021 budget process last November, when the council passed an ordinance to create the CSCC, and established its two primary functions: 911 dispatch for SPD, and parking enforcement. The ordinance mandated that 911 functions be moved out of SPD by June 1.

While the plan originally was to have parking enforcement shift over to CSCC at the same time as 911 services, that has been put on hold until the fall while the council works to resolve issues with competing labor unions.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, praised moving 911 dispatch into civilian control as a necessary step forward toward reducing armed responses.

“911 dispatch has been called the gatekeeper for the whole criminal justice. 911 training within police departments typically emphasizes a police response,” she told MyNorthwest in a written statement. “In 2015, 83 of the 153 unarmed people who were killed by police came into contact with police because of a 911 call. The move today is part of Seattle’s work to develop a crisis response that doesn’t rely on an armed police response.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant further added that she believes the shift will not have an impact on the actual quantity of police responding throughout the city.

“These accounting changes alter nothing about the number of police officers in Seattle and the amount of policing in Seattle,” she said.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis says while that may be true, this also marks a significant structural shift.

“In our ability to recalibrate and re-hookup our dispatch apparatus to things that are not police response systems,” he said.

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In the meantime, the council plans to work on “training and support of 911 dispatch to identify more calls that would benefit a non-police response,” Herbold said.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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