A federal judge Tuesday approved a new Crisis Intervention Policy for the Seattle Police Department, the latest in a series of reforms stemming from a landmark settlement agreement between the city and Department of Justice.
The policy, crafted by the Police Department and outside experts, is aimed at bolstering community safety and providing officers with guidance and training on treating people in “behavioral crisis” with dignity and respect.
Included are people with mental illness and those suffering from substance abuse and personal crises.
While officers are free to make arrests when necessary, a major goal is to connect people with community services that can provide long-term support.
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Another key component requires officers to try to de-escalate situations when reasonable, without risking their own safety.
In addition, a certified officer trained in crisis intervention will be dispatched to every scene where dispatchers suspect a behavioral crisis and, for the first time, take charge of the events.
The policy, approved by U.S. District Judge James Robart, follows the recent adoption of other new policies regarding use of force, biased policing and stop-and-frisk procedures. It becomes effective March 3.
Robart is overseeing the settlement agreement, reached in 2012, in which the city agreed to address a Justice Department report that found officers too often resorted to unnecessary force and displayed evidence of discriminatory policing.
The report noted that many victims of these encounters are people with mental illness or under the influence of drugs and alcohol. By the Police Department’s own estimates, 70 percent of the use of force involved these groups.
“SPD’s data shows that far too many situations requiring force involve people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who has strongly pushed reforms since taking office last month, said in a statement that people in behavioral crisis are “victims who deserve of our care and attention,” and that “officers deserve clear expectations for how to approach and interact with those in this kind of situation.”
Murray referred to the “many lessons learned from the tragic John T. Williams shooting,” saying the lessons helped shape the new policy in ways that will provide significant guidance to officers.
Williams, a street inebriate, was fatally shot by a Seattle police officer in 2010, sparking a public outcry. The officer resigned after the Police Department found the shooting to be unjustified.
Under the new policy, all patrol officers will be trained in crisis intervention, with some officers given advanced training to manage situations. A Crisis Response Team will conduct follow-up work to assure appropriate services are in place.
The policy includes the position of Crisis Intervention Team coordinator, Lt. Marty Rivera.
For the first time, officers will be required to collect information on every encounter with people in behavioral crisis in order to track and evaluate how the effort is working.
“The new Crisis Intervention Policy gives my officers clear guidelines and resources when they encounter people who are experiencing behavioral crisis,” Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com On Twitter @stevemiletich.