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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Federal Monitor Finds Seattle Police Department's Crisis Intervention Efforts in Initial Compliance with Consent Decree Requirements

SEATTLE – Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb filed an assessment today that finds that the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) new crisis intervention policies, training and operations to engage people in crisis are in initial compliance with the crisis intervention provisions of the court-ordered agreement with the Department of Justice.  The federal monitor filed the ninth of 15 formal assessments with the U.S. District Court and concluded that “there has been a real, tangible, and objective change in the way Seattle police are interacting, compassionately and with an eye towards treatment, with those in crisis.”

Specifically, the formal assessment found:

(1) SPD is dispatching its now large and trained cadre of crisis intervention-trained officers to crisis events in the great majority of instances;

(2) initial data indicates that officers use force against individuals in crisis less than two  percent of the time and, when they do use force, 80 percent of the time they use the lowest level of force – and did not once use the highest level of force – even in high-risk situations;

(3) over the past two years, all officers have received some level of crisis intervention training, which has been approved by the Department of Justice, the monitor and the federal court and developed in collaboration with the Crisis Intervention Committee (CIC), an all-voluntary interagency advisory committee composed of the region’s leading  mental and behavioral health experts, social service providers, clinicians, community advocates, academics, other law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and members of SPD;

(4) a sufficient number of officers appear to be stationed throughout the city, and on all watches, to provide coverage for crisis incidents;

(5) SPD has institutionalized attention to crisis intervention work by establishing and funding the CIT Program, implementing training and data collection processes, and continuing to take the lead in maintaining the CIC; and

(6) SPD is making strong efforts to guide people in crisis into the social service system, as opposed to arresting and jailing them. 

“As we have seen across the country, interactions between police officers and people in crisis, particularly those with mental illness, are a critical issue facing police today,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “Without proper policies and training, these interactions have too often led to force being used against individuals in crisis, at times with disastrous results for both the officers and the individual.  We have also seen that, without effective programs in place, individuals with mental illness or other disabilities are being unnecessarily arrested and jailed, impairing effective treatment and overburdening our jails.  The Seattle Police Department has made tremendous progress in addressing these issues, and it is quickly becoming a model for departments across the nation.”

“Police officers in Seattle are expected to make 10,000 contacts with people in crisis this year, and each of those encounters presents real and unique challenges to public safety and officer safety,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington.  “In the past, many interactions with people in crisis resulted in force being used, but organizational and operational changes around crisis intervention, including training officers and empowering them to use discretion and de-escalation, are making a real difference.  SPD has embraced best practices and are approaching and resolving crisis situations in ways that increase safety and reduce the use of force.”

The overall purpose of the assessment was to determine whether specially trained officers are being dispatched to incidents involving individuals in crisis, appropriately leading interactions with individuals in crisis and minimizing the need to use force against these individuals (for example through de-escalation techniques).  In addition, the monitoring team assessed efforts that underlie the SPD’s ability to effectively meet certain requirements of the consent decree, including: adequately training officers; providing sufficient staffing in the field; maintaining the CIC to help drive a thoughtful and collaborative crisis intervention process; ensuring the ability to properly dispose of crisis incidents, including with attempted referrals to the social service system or arrest where appropriate; and maintaining a data tracking system to provide an ongoing feedback loop to system improvement and accountability. 

Contrasting the approach to policing those in crisis prior to the consent decree – when SPD, like many other departments, had “no consistent, unified approach to crisis events” – the monitor found that SPD “ha[d] created a full-fledged crisis intervention program that is successfully being woven into the SPD organization.”   

The full assessment is attached. 

Previous assessments

Information about the previous assessments can be found here:

Upcoming assessments

The next assessments to be filed in March include assessments of SPD’s Early Intervention System and three use of force-related assessments covering officer uses of force, use of force data and officer activity fifth_systemic_assessment-crisis_intervention.pdf (1.98 MB)level. 

Updated February 16, 2016