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Seattle aims to redirect money from departed SPD officers to ‘alternative’ 911 response efforts

Seattle will look to rework its 911 response efforts in the coming months. (Seattle Fire Department, Twitter)

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a new proposal on Friday, which would seek to implement an alternative 911 call model that caters to specialized responses beyond law enforcement.

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Unveiling the proposal alongside Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Durkan described the measure as a means to providing “effective alternatives to a sworn officer” for non-emergency wellness check calls.

“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,” she said Friday.

Councilmembers have targeted a “right-sizing” of the city’s emergency response efforts for months, culminating in a unanimous vote in late May to transfer 911 operations out of the Seattle Police Department and into the civilian-controlled Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC).

Durkan and Herbold’s new proposal will focus on a separate aspect of 911 response efforts, designed to triage certain non-emergency calls so that unarmed behavioral health professionals can be sent out to provide assistance in place of armed police officers.

“Not every call to 911 requires an armed response,” Herbold said. “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.”

Seattle councilmember unveils bill to reshape 911 services

If passed, these calls would be funneled by the CSCC to the Seattle Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health program, which would then send out responders itself.

Expressing support for the measure on Friday was interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, who praised it as a way to free up more officers for calls related to active crimes.

This comes while SPD has continued to grapple with the departure of over 250 officers over the last year and a half, which Diaz previously cited as a driving reason behind increasingly slower 911 response times. In total, the city estimates that this new system could help cover between 8,000 and 14,000 calls that SPD officers currently have to respond to themselves.

The city hopes to reinvest the money from the loss of those officers to help fund this newly-proposed 911 triage system, as well as other alternatives to armed responses.

The bill will be presented in city council’s Public Safety Committee in the coming weeks, which is chaired by Herbold.

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