Seattle mayor signs order to evaluate SPD, find areas that can be handled by civilians

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed a new executive order to evaluate the work handled by the Seattle Police Department and to figure out what areas can be transferred to civilians.

One of the biggest changes you might notice starting in 2021 is who responds to 911 calls. Work is being done to shift responsibilities out from under the SPD umbrella, but answers for who will replace officers are still being determined.

Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz told the Seattle City Council’s budget committee on Thursday he’s on board with the mayor’s new executive order to re-envision policing.

“We will succeed at restoring the trust that has been diminished for some of our community,” Diaz said. “I’m prepared to make changes,” he said.

Durkan’s order calls for all city departments to support a formal effort to change how the police department works in Seattle, emphasizing that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) voices will be at the forefront.

Councilman Andrew Lewis said it’s an encouraging start.

He’s been calling for alternatives on who responds to 911 calls instead of an armed officer.

One example already on the list is a plan to expand the “Health One” pilot program with the Seattle Fire Department, where a mental health or social service professional responds with a firefighter.

Lewis expects that program will be scaled up in a major way — and quickly.

“We’re transitioning to this new phase where we’re building something together,” Lewis said.

Other changes detailed in the executive order identify different areas that will be removed from under SPD, including Parking Enforcement, the SPD Victim Advocates Unit, the Office of Emergency Management, and the 911 Communications Center.

“An independent civilian dispatch is very fundamental because that’s going to be the hub from which we can make sure we’re dispatching a broader portfolio of first-response options and services to the people of Seattle. So when you call 911, there is a response, and the person responding is appropriate for that call,” Lewis said.

Ninety-seven officers will be cut from the force, leaving the department to start next year with 1,400 officers.

Diaz’s request to the council on Thursday was to go no lower than that, saying communities including Alki Beach, Ballard and the Rainier Valley have asked for more police presence almost every year.

“We’re still handling crime. We have to have a certain amount of officers to be able to do that. And right now, we are struggling to do that,” Diaz said.

City Council members are making no promises.

“I think that does not jive with the conversation we just had about how we can reduce the type of work that officers are currently being asked to respond to,” said Council member Theresa Mosqueda.

“Saying, ‘Well, we have all this work. What else do you want us to do?’ Well, we want to have a conversation about what that workload is. We do believe the scope of police work has been broadened way beyond the functions of core law enforcement,” said Council President Lorena González.

They pointed out the mayor’s executive order forms multiple groups to analyze the work SPD does in order to help shift that work to civilian roles.

One question is whether it can all be done by Jan. 1 — when the new budget takes effect.

“The concern is if we reduce the force before we drill out the model of how we’re going to respond to those calls, then we’re not serving the public,” said Ben Noble, director of the City Budget Office, during the council meeting.

Lewis said the council is working to make sure public safety won’t be sacrificed.

“There is going to be this level of tension in how the scaling process is going to interface with police staffing. It’s been one of my priorities in all this — that we don’t have a gap in 911 response and emergency services,” Lewis said.

An SPD Functional Analysis Interdepartmental Team (IDT) will be releasing reports over the next few months on its analysis of the police department’s scope of work and staffing.

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