VIDEO: Chief of CARE @ Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Council

(WSB photo: Post-meeting, CARE Chief Amy Smith, SPD Deputy Chief Eric Barden, City Councilmember Tanya Woo)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Seattle’s third public-safety department, CARE (Community-Assisted Response and Engagement), currently encompassing the 911 Center and a startup team of crisis responders, got the spotlight at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Council.

About 20 people were there and heard from CARE’s acting chief (pending City Council confirmation), Amy Smith. The meeting was coordinated and facilitated by Mark Solomon, the South Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator who’s been filling in at the Southwest Precinct too, until Jennifer Satterwhite, this precinct’s longtime CPC, returns from maternity leave. Attendees included Seattle Police Deputy Chief Eric Barden and recently appointed citywide Councilmember Tanya Woo.

CARE DEPARTMENT: Chief Smith was the meeting’s spotlight guest, there to introduce herself and talk about the department (which we featured here after talking with her at CARE HQ downtown a month ago):

If you weren’t there or don’t have time to watch, here’s our summary:

Smith explained how the 911 center got separated from SPD, and how the unit of the crisis responders under her wing was founded. She noted that a key metric for her is whether more police officers are cleared to go to higher-priority calls because her team can handle the crisis calls, and she said some were surprised to hear that. This isn’t something that Seattle invented, though – while she has a team of six for starters, the city of Albuquerque has more than 130. (Mayor Bruce Harrell has voiced support for growing the CARE response team to 24 in the not-too-distant future, Smith noted.)

The CARE Department overall is meant to grow into a department equal to police and fire – but she also stressed, it’s not intended to replace police or require fewer police – “we need many, many more police,” she said. She showed the “department ethos” and said her doctoral work focused on that. (Yes, she’s not only Chief Amy Smith, but also Dr. Amy Smith.) Trying to understand the reason for “all these 911 calls” – say, recurring calls from a specific facility or building – can help.

According to one of her slides, the “One Seattle Public Safety Team” is SPD, SFD, CARE, the Unified Care Team, and Office of Emergency Management. About her 911 Center, Chief Smith believes it’ll “hit a million calls this year.” It’s the largest center of its kind in the state. It’s also Seattle’s Public Safety Data Hub and Control Center for Emergency Responses. The calltakers and dispatchers are “highly skilled” in a demanding job – she calls them truly the “first first responders.” And she reiterated what police are always saying – just call 911. Don’t worry about whether your topic is an emergency or not. They’ll reroute you if they have to.

(Photo courtesy CARE Department)

As for the CARE Team crisis responders, launching with a $2.4 million budget and hoping for more soon, they work in three teams of two responders. They currently use repurposed police and fire vehicles (photo above), and they’re transitioning out of the temporary Municipal Tower offices we showed when we visited Smith and her department downtown a month ago.

In Q&A/comments, a retired police officer mentioned what it was like to deal with crisis cases back in his day, and observed “this is great.” Another attendee, Chris Mackay from the West Seattle Junction Association, asked how soon the CARE Team might be deployed to West Seattle; hopefully after it’s expanded, Smith said. She said it’s important to talk about the gaps in available response, so there’s awareness about what’s needed. She also stressed that “crisis” doesn’t only mean mental illness or drug use – there are a lot of “housing situations” that also are crises, such as an anecdote she often shares about her team helping a woman who was evicted after a death in the family and couldn’t think clearly about how to seek help.

Another comment/question came from a representative of the private-security firm with which the Junction Association contracts. “A lot of companies like ours” deal with people in crisis – “is that something we can call 911 about” to get a CARE Team-type of response? In general, yes, said Smith, depending on availability – resources might not be available around the clock. But is there a place for people to be taken? Not currently, said Smith. But it’s something she often talks about, trying to agitate for a solution. “The best part of my job is feeling how much people actually care.”

How many more people are needed? In her view, for crisis response – at least 240 people. For sworn police officers – at least 400 more.

Who determinues whether it’s safe to send her team? Smith said “there are a series of questions that are asked … it’s called Dual Dispatch (because) they are starting a little bit cautious” – so far, they’ve been to more than 300 calls, “and police have never been called back.” In some cases, they show up at the start and leave, but the CARE responders have not yet had to call for help.

Regarding 911 calls, she said the dispatching currently is a little more aggressive regarding domestic disputes than she believes it needs to be – say, someone calls in that a man and woman are arguing, and the dispatchers leap to the assumption they’re partners “and he might kill her,” when data doesn’t show that to always be the case. In general, “I have to be careful not to send out two officers if it’s not warranted.”

She was joined at the front of the room by one of the CARE responders, who said she’s been doing crisis work for seven years and is trained in how not to escalate a situation. Smith also talked about extensive training in situational awareness.

Is 988 up and running? Smith said she takes issue with the rollout around the country – but “it’s good if you can be kept on the phone and get through a dark night.” But there are not enough services to connect people to.

Addressing one issue that came up regarding SPD, Deputy Chief Barden said it’s not true that officers don’t want to work with CARE – they often call in to see if anyone from the team is available, and they recognize CARE as “a great asset.” He said SPD is currently 20 officers under minimum staffing levels on average per shift citywide – so this is ‘filling a huge void and we’re thankful – I keep telling Amy all the time, she can’t scale fast enough.” Councilmember Woo spoke up at that point to say she supports scaling up the CARE Team too.

ALSO OF NOTE: Solomon asked, before adjourning, whether the time and frequency of this meeting works for people – 6 pm? monthly? – yes, was the general response. He also invited community members to let him know if there’s a particular topic about which you want to hear – “I don’t believe in meetings for the sake of meetings.” No crime stats/trend info was presented – that does tend to happen at individual neighborhood meetings these days, though not all neighborhoods have councils/coalitions/groups, so it doesn’t happen uniformly around the peninsula. (Next week you’ll find SPD at the Admiral Neighborhood Association meeting, 7 pm Tuesday, March 12)

1 Reply to "VIDEO: Chief of CARE @ Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Council"

  • J March 8, 2024 (11:52 pm)


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