How Seattle police are changing and prioritizing the way they handle your 911 calls

Seattle Police are changing the way 911 calls are handled. Under a new system, lower priority calls will be funneled into a queue. If an officer never responds to that call, a supervisor can just delete it using what’s called “Z protocol.” Moving forward, anything unanswered by SPD due to a lack of resources will fall under what’s called “Z protocol.”

Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson believes the policy pivot is an outgrowth of under staffing. According to data in a recent SPD Finance and Response Time Report, over the past four years response times have gone up at all Seattle Police precincts, indicating it’s taking longer for help to arrive.

“Let’s be clear, the Seattle Police Department has lost over 400 personnel since 2020,” said Nelson. “Investigators, 100 of them have been moved out of specialty units like sexual assault and into patrol. There still aren’t enough officers out there to ensure a rapid response to 911 calls.”

Nelson was among the first to learn of the change at a June 14 Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting. 911 calls have always been ranked based on how serious the emergency is. According to the council analyst, currently, if a dispatcher determines a complaint as lower priority, they’ll tell the caller that SPD is suffering from a lack of resources and that they should call back at another time. Under the new policy, folks who call into 911 will no longer receive a call back from authorities.

“Things have gotten worse, not better on the 911 response front,” said Nelson. “There’s a huge gap in customer service now and simply there are not enough officers or sergeants that are available to call back.”

Jim Fuda, Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound, says the failed defund the police experiment has led to the use of “Z protocol.” He’s concerned that without a follow up call or further communication from law enforcement, more people may start taking matters into their own hands.

“If you look at the picture, there’s only so many cops that can go to so many calls,” said Fuda. “In the past there was a burglary unit, an auto theft unit and now that is combined into a general investigations unit, which means calls are piling up.”

Fuda pointed an upside to the change is the data that will be collected as to what is deemed low priority.

“This is a way for police to show actually in numbers of why and how they can’t respond due to a lack of resources,” said Fuda.