SPD report discovers 80% of 911 calls were for non-criminal events

May 19, 2022, 12:27 PM
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)...
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

After reviewing more than 1.2 million 911 calls from 2017 to 2019, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) found 79.7% of calls were for non-criminal events. Just 6% were associated with felonies of any kind.

The SPD contracted the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) to conduct an analysis of the types of calls the department handled from the years 2017 through 2019.

The analysis coincided with then-mayor Jenny Durkan’s September 2020 executive order, Reimagining Policing and Community Safety in Seattle. The study was meant to inform SPD of recommendations for alternative, non-police responses to certain calls.

With Seattle’s police force stretched as thin as it is — new data revealed 43 sworn-in police staff have left in 2022, while just 13 have been hired — Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee is attempting to redistribute the police force for more urgent 911 calls.

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“70% of calls for services did not require a law enforcement response or were appropriate for a dual response by law enforcement and a community-based/non-law enforcement service provider,” the NICJR report read.

“The NICJR analysis from a high-level perspective is a great way to begin to enter the conversation. Once these events have resolved themselves, they kind of land in these buckets that you can roughly say, well that eventually didn’t end up needing a police responder,” said Loren Atherley, the Senior Research Scientist for the SPD. “But the trick in this is being able to forecast, not predict, but be able to forecast in terms of supporting human decision making at the various stages along call processing, what this event may turn out to be so that we can right size the response from the perspective of evidence-based policing.”

NICJR has a standard four-tier model to decide whether a particular call for service should be responded to by SPD, a “community emergency response network” (CERN), or both.

Tier 1 is CERN dispatched only, non-criminal. Tier 2 is CERN lead, with officers present, for events that involve a misdemeanor with low potential of violence. If CERN arrives on the scene and determines there is low potential for violence and an arrest is unnecessary or unlikely, officers can leave.

Tier 3 is officers lead, with CERN present for a non-violent felony or when an arrest is likely. If officers arrive on the scene and determine there is no need for an arrest or an arrest is unlikely with no signs of violence, officers step back, and CERN takes the lead. Tier 4 is officers only for serious, violent felonies or a high likelihood of arrest.

During Seattle’s public safety meeting, Denver, Colorado was referenced as an example of a city that used a similar pilot program to dictate who responds to specific 911 calls. Denver has used this pilot program for the past two years on 2,700 calls without any incident or problem. Due to the program’s success, Denver announced the city is expanding its system to 10,000 calls over the course of a year.

“I’m not sure Denver and how they’re doing their things should dictate how Seattle does it. It’s going to be relevant information and something we want to know, but I’m not sure it’s dispositive of how we’re going to roll out our resources,” Seattle Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg said. “Denver has different dynamics. They have more resources for mental health providers that respond to calls. It’s a little bit of a different framework than what we have in our current structure in Seattle.”

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz pushed back on the NICJR report with a letter for the council by claiming 97% of calls received by the department are resolved differently than they are initially classified.

“In reality, it’s not possible to accurately predict the outcome of every call,” he said. “Consequently, until now, 911 call centers have treated all calls as high or extreme risk and sent an all-hazard officer, i.e., a police officer.”

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SPD report discovers 80% of 911 calls were for non-criminal events