DOJ and City Hail Federal Judge’s Approval of the new Seattle Police Department Crisis Intervention Policy
Policy Sets New Procedures And Training For Officers Dealing With Mentally Ill Or Drug Affected Individuals
U.S. District Judge James L. Robart today approved a new Crisis Intervention Policy for the Seattle Police Department, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. The policy, developed with local, regional and nationally-recognized experts in the fields of mental health and drug addiction, is designed to improve community safety and provide officers with the guidance and training they need to treat those having a behavioral crisis with dignity and respect, and to resolve crisis incidents by connecting those individuals with community services that can provide long-term stabilizing support. One key component of the policy calls for officers to de-escalate the situation when feasible and reasonable.
The new policy will become the official policy of the Seattle Police Department on March 3, 2014, and initial training to the policy will begin soon thereafter.
“SPD’s data shows that far too many situations requiring force involve people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. This new policy creates critical new organizational and operational changes for the Seattle Police Department that will guide and help officers when dealing with such individuals,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “The phased approach is a model for urban policing. While all officers will be trained, selected officers will be certified with advanced training to manage the scene when dealing with a person in crisis. A crisis response team will follow up on criminal investigations where mental illness is suspected. These organizational and operational changes are recognized as best practices at the best law enforcement agencies in the nation. We thank the members of the Crisis Intervention Committee (and their sponsoring agencies) for the time they generously spent in diligently and carefully helping to craft these policies.”
The new policy was developed over months of work by the Crisis Intervention Committee (CIC), composed of mental and behavioral health experts: providers, clinicians, advocates, academics, outside law enforcement representatives, members of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the judiciary. The CIC was created in 2013 to provide a problem-solving forum for interagency issues, including the development of policy, the evaluation of training for SPD’s officers engaged with this population, and the collection of data and other information to track systemic failures in providing the available services.
“People experiencing a behavioral crisis are victims who deserve of our care and attention, and our SPD officers deserve clear expectations for how to approach and interact with those in this kind of situation,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “The many lessons learned from the tragic John T. Williams shooting have helped inform the Department’s new crisis intervention policy, which I believe will be of significant help to officers as they face these kinds of encounters in the future.”
The policy creates the position of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) coordinator, Lt. Marty Rivera, who is appointed by the Chief of Police and provides command-level oversight of the Crisis Intervention Program and, who is the primary point of contact for the mental health provider/clinician/advocacy community for the SPD.
The Crisis Intervention Program consists of three distinct levels of expertise: all line patrol officers who will receive basic training on crisis intervention; the “certified” Crisis Intervention officers; and the follow-up Crisis Response Team. To become a CIT “certified” officer, those officers must take a 40 hour crisis intervention course with a certification exam and complete additional annual training. A CIT-certified officer will be dispatched to every scene where the police communications center suspects a behavioral crisis and, for the first time, will take primary responsibility at the scene of crisis events. The Crisis Response Team is tasked with following up on officer encounters with those enduring a crisis to assess that appropriate services are in place.
“The new Crisis Intervention Policy gives my officers clear guidelines and resources when they encounter people who are experiencing behavioral crisis,” said Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey. “This policy also provides access and resources to a vulnerable population. As police officers we are also charged with community care taking duties and this new policy works in concert with that philosophy and will provide officers with the necessary training and tools to help people that are in need of those services. I want to thank the Crisis Intervention Committee for helping us reach another milestone in the DOJ settlement agreement.”
Also, for the first time, officers will be required to collect data on every encounter they have with individuals in behavioral crisis, again to systematically track and assess the deployment and effectiveness of resources.
The Justice Department’s investigation in 2011 found that SPD’s patterns of excessive force often arose from encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This finding was particularly troubling because, by its own estimates, 70% of SPD’s use of force during that time period involved these populations.