Seattle to hire 18 behavioral health responders as police force dwindles

Jun 27, 2024, 3:31 PM | Updated: 3:43 pm

Image: A Seattle Police Department vehicle seen during the day...

A Seattle Police Department vehicle seen during the day (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department SPD Blotter)

(Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department SPD Blotter)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Wednesday the city will be hiring 18 additional behavioral health responders after securing nearly $2 million in federal funding.

The new responders will be part of the Community Assisted Response Engagement (CARE) department, which started in October. CARE was implemented to “diversify emergency response, help people in need receive appropriate assistance and ensure the highest priority incidents receive critical police and fire services,” as stated by the mayor’s office.

CARE responders are sent out after a 911 call taker determines one would be appropriate for the situation. Examples are welfare checks and calls that don’t require law enforcement, such as nonviolent, nonemergency and nonmedical calls.

The CARE team also assists officers who have called for backup but only after any violence has been subdued.

“Our West Precinct officers have formed strong partnerships with CARE and often call for their assistance, even when not initially co-dispatched,” Seattle Interim Chief of Police Sue Rahr stated in a press release. “We share mutual respect and look forward to expanded opportunities to collaborate. Particularly with our current staffing crisis, officers appreciate the CARE Team and the assistance they provide.”

Looking more at SPD staffing numbers

The expansion comes as the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is stuck at its lowest staffing numbers since the 1950s, as “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH confirmed with SPD in April and reiterated this month.

More from Jason Rantz: SPD staffing at its lowest since 1958 as 38 cops leave so far

Rantz also reported last week the SPD lost 38 officers, including recruits, as of June 3. Conversely, they only hired or rehired 15 officers this year, leaving the department with its lowest staffing levels since 1958.

The total SPD separations come as seven more officers left the force in May.

More data on the CARE team

According to data from the mayor’s office, the CARE team responded to over 500 dispatch calls with an average response time of less than 10 minutes and an average on-scene time of 39 minutes. Of those calls, 88% were from police officers requesting help and 12% were 911 dispatch calls. The most common calls: 38% involved transport to shelters or day centers. Other common calls were for crisis de-escalation, resource navigation and helping connect people with food, water, clothing or hygiene.

Jason Rantz content: Seattle Police Department recruiting DACA recipients to be cops

So far the department has focused on downtown, the Chinatown-International District and SODO. But Harrell hopes the 18 new hires will allow for a broader reach in the city. Capitol Hill, Central Area, First Hill, Judkins Park, Madison Park, Montlake and upper Pike/Pine would see assistance from CARE.

Harrell also stated he plans to request 21 more positions in his midyear budget.

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X here and email her here.

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