UPDATE: City launches ‘dual-dispatch’ CARE team, but don’t expect to see it here any time soon

(City of Seattle photos)

12:27 PM: You’ve likely heard a lot lately about the city’s plan for a pilot “dual dispatch” program as part of the new CARE department, sending non-police responders to certain types of emergency calls. Its launch was formally announced by the city today, describing this as “a foundational program for Seattle’s newest public safety department: the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) department,” the third public-safety department after Seattle Police and Seattle Fire. The new team’s apparel and vehicles were shown off too.

The city says the new CARE response team “features behavioral health specialists, who all have prior field experience along with a bachelor’s or master’s degree related to the field,” responding to certain person-in-crisis situations. Initially, they’ll be focused downtown (including the C-ID and SODO), so you’re not likely to see them in West Seattle any time soon. From the city announcement, here’s how it works, and where it will initially be focused:

The dual dispatch pilot pairs CARE responders with SPD officers, with both units dispatched simultaneously by the 911 Center, which is also housed in the CARE Department. After arriving at the scene and ensuring it is safe, SPD officers can respond to other calls while the CARE responders provide services. This initial dual dispatch pilot model will inform future development of diversified response and is designed to accommodate rapid iteration and continuous improvement. This program allows the City to deploy new teams specialized to help people in crisis, safely gather critical data to grow the program responsibly, and make an immediate impact freeing up critical and sometimes scarce police and fire resources.

The pilot is initially focused on Downtown, including the Chinatown-International District and SODO, operating from 11 am to 11 pm, a schedule that matches where and when the most frequent calls related to mental health crisis occur. …

CARE responders are dispatched by calling 9-1-1 like the City’s other emergency services. Trained call takers in the City’s 911 Center will decide which incidents are appropriate for this response. There is no number to call to directly request a CARE response. Call takers and dispatchers in the 911 Center have been trained on new protocols for sending out the new CARE responders, and SPD command staff have met with officers across precincts to answer questions about this new approach.

Calls eligible for a CARE response include low-acuity welfare checks, calls that don’t need enforcement, and others that are non-violent, non-emergent, and non-medical. In the City’s dispatch system these calls are coded as “person down” or “wellness/welfare check,” there have been 2,686 person down calls and 5,533 wellness/welfare check calls so far in 2023.

Mayor Harrell has proposed a $26.5 million budget for the CARE department next year, 30 percent more than this year, but that’s not just for the “dual-dispatch” program.

ADDED 2:04 PM: Among the community members from around the city who were invited to today’s announcement was Morgan Community Association president Deb Barker. She sent this photo of acting CARE director Amy Smith speaking during the event at City Hall:

Here’s the Seattle Channel video of the announcement event.

23 Replies to "UPDATE: City launches 'dual-dispatch' CARE team, but don't expect to see it here any time soon"

  • DBurns October 25, 2023 (1:34 pm)

    This looks amazing! Hopeful that it’s the beginning of a successful program to help both the public and law enforcement. I appreciate these CARE specialists so much for their willingness to work in the community and make an effort to improve our system. They look like a diverse team with youth and energy!! Thank you and best of luck!  

    • Amy Smith October 26, 2023 (2:47 pm)

      Thank you so much for the encouragement and support!

  • Lauren October 25, 2023 (1:47 pm)

    Excellent news! My sister works for a similar program in Pierce County which has seen great results. 

  • good luck! October 25, 2023 (2:21 pm)

    Optimism is great but this seems like a disaster waiting to happen.  Hopefully it will work out!  But my first thought was, I would be terrified if my kid had that job.  

  • WS Guy October 25, 2023 (2:46 pm)

    This is a good idea that was unfortunately buried under the boneheaded and hateful “defund the police” rhetoric.  If the message had been to support our police by creating a mental health response team we’d have been so much better off. 

    • Jay October 25, 2023 (5:11 pm)

      How is the idea of supporting SPD’s behavior not more hateful than the defund the police movement? They’ve been killing people, defrauding the city budget with false overtime filings, and behaving like a gang with no accountability. How is it hateful to ask for accountability? The idea is to have non-police intervention teams because SPD officers are unreasonable dangerous towards vulnerable or marginalized “low value” populations.

      • Rhonda October 25, 2023 (5:44 pm)

        SPD officers are held to higher levels of accountability than any others in the entire Pacific Northwest. Who’s going to hold the new CARE personnel accountable?

        • K October 25, 2023 (7:14 pm)

          Quite the opposite.  When crime happens, no one blames SPD for failure to prevent it the way SDoT gets yelled at for every car accident that happens on their roads.  When SPD racks up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime compensation for seemingly doing nothing, no one questions their pay scale or contract the way SPS teachers get questioned and told their pay is excessive.  When SPD reassigns so many detectives there are only two–TWO–working on rape cases in Seattle, no one questions their priorities the way they question any department’s focus on the environment (except parks, who gets questioned if they consider anything BUT the environment).  Maybe SPD gets held to a higher standard than other police departments in the PNW, because that bar is really low, but they are held to a lower standard across the board than any other city department.  The best chance at having CARES held accountable for anything is having them separate from SPD.

          • Seattlite October 25, 2023 (9:33 pm)

            How does the current police officer shortage figure into your comments?  SPD has lost approximately 600 police officers in the past three years.  I don’t have the numbers on detectives’ employment numbers.  Do you?   I have not encountered any police officers who were doing “nothing” while on active duty.  Do you have any sources that have information on police officers doing “nothing”?  If so, I would like to read about for myself.  Thanks.

          • Anne October 26, 2023 (7:11 am)

            “when crime happens no one blames SPD for failure to prevent it” are you kidding me? How often do you read comments pertaining to crime posts here? There are PLENTY  who do just that. What a horrid rant-filled post-“SPD racks up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime compensation for SEEMINGLY doing nothing” ??? Nice touch putting SEEMINGLY in there. With opinions like yours it’s no wonder it’s hard to recruit anyone to join LE in Seattle. A shortage of officers is one reason detectives are being reassigned to the streets-leaving few to investigate crimes like rape.  I hope CARES works so well we have to increase their numbers quickly. LEO should never have had the responsibility of responding to  those in a mental health crisis-that should fall to those trained & qualified to do so.  

        • WS Res October 25, 2023 (7:20 pm)

          Oh that’s a good one Rhonda! Hilarious. Good thing we have community members like you to keep a close eye on those dangerous, arrogant social workers!

        • Jay October 25, 2023 (8:35 pm)

          They’re actively defrauding overtime, they ran over a woman and the union president and VP laughed about it, among many other scandals. Zero consequences. What exactly are they being held accountable for?

          • Rhonda October 25, 2023 (8:58 pm)

            EVERY city of Seattle employee has union representation. Unions protect their represented employees. That’s what they exist for.

      • Seattlite October 25, 2023 (9:26 pm)

        Where did you get this information that you posted?  Could you please let me know your sources so I can read it for myself?

  • Rhonda October 25, 2023 (3:49 pm)

    I’m glad SPD officers will show up to secure the incident scenes first, but what will these CARE personnel do if the subjects become violent and attack them after SPD leaves the scene(s)?

    • Josh October 26, 2023 (8:50 am)

      Why do you think someone who is in need of some sort of social work support who has been jointly assessed and deemed not an active threat would then respond to a uniformed officer leaving them with people who are actively trying to help them by becoming violent? What do you think many of these people in crisis are actually like to interface with? One thing I can tell you is that these CARE personnel are unlikely to kill anyone who for whatever reason becomes violent, as a nurse who works closely with social workers we somehow manage to interface with confused, violent, and aggressive people all the time without killing them or suffering harm to ourselves.   How inhuman and irrational do you think people in need of social services are?  The vast majority of the down trodden you see are inhuman only in that they are like spiders, bears, dogs, and snakes: as afraid of them as you are they are more afraid of you.

  • KayK October 25, 2023 (4:14 pm)

    I appreciated Chief Smith’s cautious and realistic approach , she’s planning to roll this out and see what kind of results they are getting before upscaling and modifying as they go to get optimum results. The simplicity of being able to dial one dispatch – 911, and getting a trained responder to whatever emergency one has is terrific. Certainly we need something like this, fingers crossed it works and frees up SFD and SPD personnel to work on other matters.

    • Amy Smith October 26, 2023 (2:49 pm)

      Thank you very much for the comment! We are very committed to improving the system of response and better serving our community.

  • JP October 26, 2023 (10:34 pm)

    How does something like this cost $26.5M to operate? Insurance expenses? Sounds like they are plugging in to the existing SPD infrastructure. On pace for ~10,150 wellness checks this year, that’s $2,610 per response (some of which will still require SPD presence). 

    • WSB October 27, 2023 (12:17 am)

      The figure is the budget for the entire CARE **department**, which also includes 911.

    • Amy Smith October 27, 2023 (12:32 pm)

      Hi JP, that is almost entirely the budget for Seattle 9-1-1. The pilot budget was $1.5 million this year.

      • JP October 29, 2023 (11:19 pm)

        Thank you for the clarification.

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