By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When you hear about “public-safety alternatives,” what does that really mean?
The spotlight topic at this month’s District 1 Community Network meeting, online Wednesday night, sought to answer that question.
Guests included both providers of those alternatives and a proponent of them, West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee again this year.
Herbold opened by acknowledging that crime in the city rose in 2021 crime, including categories such as gunfire and aggravated assaults, though homicides were down from 2020. Police Chief Adrian Diaz has said there’s no single cause; it has to be addressed with a public-health response, she said. The council has fully funded SPD’s hiring plan, she said, noting that SPD’s budget is down but $41 million of the cuts are because functions that used to be part of SPD are no longer part of the department – the 911 center, parking enforcement, emergency management. “The council has not made any cuts that have resulted in layoffs, but the staff is down because 350 officers have left.” Also, Herbold said, 170+ officers are on disability or extended leave in SPD, an “unusually large number” – many of them because of the vaccine mandate, many who may be “on their way out of the department.” 12 new officers were hired by year’s end but attrition is higher – in that same period, 13 more left. She supports a hiring incentive program but contends the city needs to continue developing alternatives to traditional policing.
Toward that, here’s the presentation into which she segued:
They’re continuing to analyze 911 responses with an outside expert. They identified 174 call types that could be handled some other way besides dispatching an armed police officer; Herbold said SPD agreed with 101 of them. Analysis results are expected by end of first quarter; an implementation plan is expected in the second quarter.
From there, Herbold recapped some of the programs with alternate responders (each of the following has a page in the slide deck above with more info):
The Community Service Officer program has funding for more officers and they’re looking at ways to expand it further.
Health One is deploying a third unit and they’re working on what it would take to add a fourth and fifth.
Triage One will launch for “wellness check” calls – there are 4,300 of those every year. Hiring for this team is expected between May and September.
They’re piloting a program called One Call, meant to help first responders interact more smoothly and helpfully with the behavioral-health system.
She listed even more programs, including the forthcoming hotline 988 for mental-health concerns. Then she explained that “we have a Community Safety Hub here in West Seattle,” first funded last year, and turned the spotlight over to Marvin Marshall, from the YMCA (WSB sponsor), who leads it.
Marshall explained that his work centers on a “neighborhood hub style of engagement,” like the city’s former Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, collaborating “to try to tear down those silos.” There’s a hub in Central Seattle, one in South Seattle, and this one one headquartered at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in North Delridge. Their street team is doing a lot of community engagement, activating “hot spots,” pop-up events, a lot of work at the high schools, trying to “create an environment where community can come together and heal.” The hub also provided holiday support – gift cards, food, etc., using Y resources, giving out coats, gun-lock boxes, Christmas trees. Plus, a lot of case management, plus a Safety Team that does crisis response – such as, they get a call from a community center or school, can they be present? Or maybe a call from SPD about community concerns after a shooting. They don’t like the term “patrolling” but they are “out building presence in the community.” Also, he said, they just started a Credible Messenger group.
Another program with which Marshall is involved, Alive & Free, is “more (like) your intensive case-management … team of outreach workers supporting people … working with young people, gang-involved, affected by justice system, to identify barriers, create goals, social activities, create an assessment of young people’s needs. Community violence is kind of fluid, city to city, it helps (us) to be able to serve” regionally – a young person might live in Kent but get in trouble in Burien, for example.
After Marshall, D1CN attendees got an update on the LEAD program from its area manager Aaron Burkhalter.
In 2021, LEAD worked with 1,019 people, 58 percent identifying as BIPOC, and had 40,000+ encounters with people. More than 30 percent of the people in the program have moveed out of homelessness. It’s relatively new in West Seattle, with about a dozen clients right now and more than a dozen additional referrals. The program has broadened beyond its origins as a “diversion” type of program – now clients might be “people who are having an impact on the community – we work as navigators of all the various services, sign up for housing, inpatient care if needed, other large or small issues to help them get into a better place.” That can involve a lot of considerations – often looking at the whole person, “what is the best thing to tackle next?” They’re working on outreach, with someone literally walking and driving around West Seattle “going wherever needed.” A new case manager is coming to West Seattle, too.
In Q&A, meeting facilitator Tony Fragada from the Alki Community Council asked asks how they make contacts with people on the street. Reply: LEAD identifies people in a number of ways, Health One for example, and “will take referrals from trusted community organizations” (that) “know the individuals that are creating disruptions for community members.” There are also dedicated outreach workers who go to encampments and might identify people who qualify for LEAD. “We see (it) as part of our crisis response system.”
An attendee asked if they are they working with people camping on Barton and Henderson. Burkhalter said he’d have to check with team members, but he has made note of those areas. Another question was about 26th SW encampments near City Light property. How would they find out if this is on anyone’s radar? Burkhalter will check on those too.
Kay Kirkpatrick from the Highland Park Action Committee and HP Improvement Club observes that what’s confusing to the general public is that with so many different programs, they would seem to be left to figure out who to call. “In the past 911 was that funnel. … Having that one number to call is so, so, so helpful.” Neighbors are being affected and now have no idea who to call. How is the information about these programs going to get to the public? “We can’t expect the general public to be sorting out” who to call and why. “We need professionals (to make those calls). … People don’t know, they’re so confused.”
Herbold said it’s all intended to be activated by calling 911. Ultimately there need to be changes at the 911 call center to make that work, though. Right now they don’t have a decision tree enabling them to get information from caller and send them to an alternative. Right now the options are just “Health One or a uniformed officer.” There’s a new “911 protocol system” that the center is working to implement – needs software and training, but will eventually allow people to call 911 and be referred to other alternatives – so the public doesn’t have to memorize a bunch of numbers. “The whole health of our community rides on this effort.”
Another question dealt with police responses: Why are officers not being sent to some calls? If there’s no chance to apprehend someone – the crime happened hours ago – they have to put their energies elsewhere, Herbold explained.
D1CN’s Jim Guenther asked about the timeline for all this to really be ramped up. “We’re never done, public policy is always evolving.” But the implementation has various schedules. “There are dates for them to report back to council” for example on the call center software.
P.S. One night after this meeting, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a briefing on public safety for 10:30 am today (Friday).
NEXT D1CN MEETING: D1CN meets on first Wednesdays most months, 7 pm, online.