Monitor Issues Report on How SPD Responds to Crisis Incidents

by Elisa Hahn, King5 News (Feb. 16, 2015)

SEATTLE -- The federal monitor overseeing changes to the Seattle Police Department issued a new report on how officers respond to people in crisis.

It reveals Seattle police respond to a staggering number of calls dealing with people with possible mental issues, an estimated ten thousand incidents a year.

Officer Louis Chan is a certified crisis intervention officer with Seattle police. He has had 40 hours of training and eight years of experience responding to calls involving the mentally ill.

Tuesday afternoon, he responded to a man who lashed out at the Downtown Emergency Service Center.

Chan says he tried to approach the situation with compassion and patience, taking as much time as needed to calm the man down.

The man was upset, telling Chan, "They don't respect me!"

"Let's think about you," Chan responded. "What do you need right now? You say you need a bed right?"

"Yeah," the man responded. He slowly appeared to calm down.

"We're not only there to tell him things, or ask him to do things or make him do things, but we're also actively listening," Chan said later.

Under the federal consent decree, Seattle police now requires all its officers to have at least eight hours of crisis intervention training. The department also established a crisis response team of officers who have advanced training, like Chan.

The results seem to be paying off. The federal monitor looked at data for three months, from June to August of last year.

The department responded to more than 2500 crisis incidents, an average of 27 a day.

The numbers were positive. Only 7.5% ended in arrest; 2% of the incidents officers had to use force. And in 82% of those incidents, officers used the lowest level of force possible.

The report admits there is no baseline to compare the numbers to, because SPD didn't collect this data before the consent decree. And there is no clear national standard to use as a guideline.

In the case Tuesday afternoon, Officer Chan called another shelter and found the man a bed for the night.

The man was thankful and left the officers with a parting reminder.

"At the end of the day, maybe I'm in a bad position too," he told them. "Maybe that's why I can't get the help that [I] need..."

"In this event it worked out great 'cause he wanted someone to listen," said Chan about the man he was responding to. "Because he was just kind of looking for a place to stay."

"We all on some level do it because we want to help people," said Chan. "This takes it a few steps further. So you're absolutely right, it makes you feel good."

Watch the report here.