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Review of Dept. Data Shows Arrests, Use of Force Are Rare With Those In Crisis

A review of the Seattle Police Department’s enhanced crisis intervention efforts has shown officers are utilizing additional training, improved data tracking and partnership with service providers to drastically improve contacts with those suffering from mental health or drug-induced crises.

Data shows officers in the department are on track to make 10,000 contacts this year, and that very few of those contacts so far have resulted in arrests or use of force.

The department now staffs a Crisis Response Team—a partnership between mental health professionals and officers trained extensively to engage those in crisis—and has trained all SPD officers in crisis intervention and deescalation. The department also now has streamlined a referral system, allowing officers to more easily refer those in need of crisis intervention and services to partner agencies.

“I’m proud to see our department leading the way in serving those experiencing a crisis,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Police officers are often the first to encounter those needing addiction or mental health services. We must continue to invest in the best training for our officers, as well as improved access to human services, to further improve outcomes for the most vulnerable.”

“These results are remarkable,” said Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “They underscore the fact that policing is a service that goes well beyond law enforcement. I’m incredibly proud of SPD officers for handling these complicated situations so effectively and with such minimal force.”

A summary of the First Quarter review is posted below. Additional data and summaries of successful Crisis Intervention efforts are available here (.pdf)

Seattle Police Department Crisis Intervention First Quarter Review

May 15, 2015 – August 15, 2015

Overview of Data:

anticipate 10,000 crisis contacts this year, highly-trained crisis intervention officers are quick to respond when needed across the city, and that officers are using force in a minimal number of crisis contacts.

  • A preliminary analysis of crisis contacts from the first three months of data collection (May 15, 2015 to August 15, 2015), shows that Seattle Police officers are using force minimally—less than one half of one percent of crisis contacts (10) resulted in Type II, or intermediate use of force.  Less than 2% of crisis contacts resulted in any use of force at all, with the most common use of force being a control hold.  
  • During this three month period, officers responded to 2,464 crisis calls – a rate trending towards approximately10,000 crisis calls annually.  CIT Certified Officers (who undergo 40 hours of crisis intervention training) responded to 82% of these crisis calls.  An additional 14% of crisis contacts were effectively handled by officers (all of whom receive a day of basic crisis intervention training annually) in the field without need of more specialized certified officers.
  • When officers made community service referrals, it was most often to the mobile crisis team, and the crisis clinic.  Additionally, officers assisted persons in crisis in engaging emergency mental health services in about 40% of all contacts.   
  • Arrests of persons in crisis were relatively low – only 8% (187) were arrested.  Sixty-four percent of those arrested were either armed or threatening violence against a third-party or an officer.  Furthermore, officers exercised high discretion when determining whether to make an arrest.  Officers had probable cause to make arrests of another 5% of the crisis contacts, but chose another resolution to the incident.

New crisis data templates were deployed on May 15, 2015

On May 15, 2015 the Seattle Police Department implemented a data collection template to gather information about interactions between officers and subjects in crisis.   The goals of the crisis template were to help the department better understand the nature of the crisis events that officers respond to, to help assess deployment levels, the use of force during crisis events, and what community resources officers are utilizing to match persons in crisis with needed behavioral health and chemical dependency resources.   

The crisis template has been in use department wide for just over three months at the time of this writing.   This report offers initial findings from the data collected by the crisis template and will cover four specific areas: 1) the use of force in crisis contacts, 2) the dispatching and arrival of crisis certified officers to crisis calls, 3) the utilization of community resources, and 4) the arrest rates of subjects in crisis, as well as those that could have been arrested but were not.

Overall, between May 15, 2015 and August 15, 2015 officers completed templates for 2,464 crisis contacts.  Citywide, this accounts for an average of 27 contacts with persons in crisis every day—a number likely to reach 10,000 annual contacts.    The breakdown of templates by precinct is detailed in Table 1 below.

*Unknown precinct indicates a lack of address, or an address that does not geocode and therefore does not provide an indication of precinct.

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Less than one-half of one percent of crisis contacts resulted in significant force

In the first three months of use of the crisis template (May 15, 2015 – August 15, 2015), only 49 of the 2,464 contacts that SPD officers made with persons in crisis resulted in the use of force, which is only 2% of all crisis contacts.  Even more significant, when force is used in crisis contacts, it is primarily of the lowest level – Type I.   Only 10 contacts (one-half of one percent) with persons in crisis resulted in intermediate or Type II force and there were no uses of Type III force during crisis contacts in this reporting period.  

Chart 1 below provides details of the rates of use of force when examining all crisis contact templates.  It is clear to see from the chart that of all the contacts that Seattle Police Officers are making of subjects in crisis, force is used very rarely.   

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CIT Trained Officers were-on scene in 82% of crisis calls

The Seattle Police Department Manual requires that communications dispatch a CIT Certified Officer to each call that appears to involve a subject in behavioral crisis (SPD Manual at 16.110-POL-5).  A certified officer may not always be available for dispatch to a call and response to calls are not delayed if this is the case, but data obtained from the crisis templates allows us to assess progress towards a goal of always dispatching a certified officer to a behavioral crisis call.   

Of the 2,464 crisis contacts documented during the first three months of data collection, certified officers were present at the call 82% of the time, or in 2,023 contacts.   In 341 contacts, officers at the scene resolved the call without need for a certified officer.   All sworn officers in the department receive basic crisis intervention training, and are skilled in resolving situations in their own right.   Certified officers are available and dispatched as an additional resource to ensure that persons in crisis are provided every opportunity to access necessary treatment.  In 4% of cases (100 contacts) certified officers were requested and or dispatched but for multiple reasons did not arrive on scene.   SPD is looking into these cases to determine how to make improvements.

SPD officers actively refer persons in crisis to community resources

Certified officers learn more in depth about places where referrals can be made in their 40 hour certification courses, but all SPD officers, through their required annual crisis training, are provided with information about where and how to refer persons in crisis to available community resources.  Table 2 below details the referrals for service officers made in the first three months of data collection.    

Arrests of persons in crisis were low

All officers, not just CIT certified officers, use discretion in every contact in their decisions to cite, detain, and arrest.   In contacts with persons in crisis, frequently officers do not make arrests even when there is probable cause to do so, deciding instead to offer the person services.  In the first three months of use of the crisis template, SPD officers report that in 113 crisis contacts (5%), there was probable cause to arrest, but the subjects were not arrested.   In the vast majority of those cases, the subjects were either voluntarily or involuntarily committed to the hospital.   Over half (55%) of the 113 subjects that committed offenses and were not arrested were involuntarily committed, and an additional 6% of the subjects contacted voluntarily were transported to the hospital.   The remaining individuals were offered, and took advantage of services at the crisis clinic, were referred to a Designated Mental Health Professions (DMHP), or were given other treatment referrals.   

Of the 2,464 completed templates during the first three months of collection, only 8% of individuals contacted were arrested.  Thirty-two (or 17%) of the subjects in crisis that were ultimately arrested were armed with a weapon.  About half (47%) of those arrested had threatened violence against another, including ten subjects that threatened the officers responding to the scene.  Therefore, 64% of arrests involved threatening or armed subjects.