With slower response times from SPD, city council raises concerns over ‘customer service issues’

Jun 30, 2022, 1:08 PM | Updated: 1:11 pm
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Councilmember Sara Nelson believes Seattle’s call center that handles police responses has a significant problem responding to callers during a June meeting of the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

“There is a customer service issue going on with the system right now with no communication,” said Nelson. “And that’s why people are getting upset.”

The problem arose from the transition of responding to 911 emergency calls. Two years ago, City Council and then-Mayor Jenny Durkan agreed to establish a call center that was devoid of police supervision. The Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) was created June 1, 2021, and currently includes the Seattle 911 Center, formerly part of the SPD.

Some calls go unanswered as Seattle Police change priority protocol

The Seattle 911 Center is the primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for 911 emergency calls placed within the city of Seattle. Calls requiring a fire or medical response are immediately transferred to the Seattle Fire Alarm Center.

The Seattle 911 Center handles approximately 900,000 calls per year, and its staffing is 26% below what it’s budgeted for in 2022, as of this reporting.

With a depleted staff, lower-priority calls can also be designated for “Z-disposition,” where a call receives no police response, but is logged as received by police. The 911 caller may never know their call was labeled as a “Z” unless SPD calls the 911 caller back and lets them know. Currently, there is no requirement to do so.

“That’s part of why I think we are frustrated by the ‘demand management’ approach that we are using,” said Public Safety Committee chairperson and council member Lisa Herbold during the meeting. “Because those decisions are already being made to not send police to respond to those lower-priority calls.”

The city announced its attempt to recruit community service officers, crisis response experts, and behavioral health providers to dispatch certain calls and curb this issue. Exactly which calls and how the process would work is still in the planning stages.

“We are sort of building an airplane as we fly it, right. Crime, disorder, public health issues don’t wait for us to finish our process,” said Andrew Lewis, the committee’s Vice Chair, in a Public Safety and Human Services City Council Meeting.

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With slower response times from SPD, city council raises concerns over ‘customer service issues’