Seattle Starts Hiring Unarmed Response Crisis Teams

The Seattle Police Department will soon be facing competition when it comes to responding to emergency 911 calls.

Councilwoman Lisa Herbold has announced an innovative and groundbreaking approach to emergency response by introducing a new program that will send unarmed “crisis responders” to 911 calls instead of police officers.

The city will be hiring its first six positions for the new pilot program and has provided funding as part of the midyear supplemental budget.

The new “dual dispatch/alternate crisis response program” will have mental health professionals as first responders and police officers as backup available. This will allow for greater focus on public safety, saving officers time to be available for the kinds of emergencies they are uniquely trained for.

“What this does is it shifts the focus of safety to one that emphasizes de-escalation, understanding that the vast majority of 911 calls do not need a crisis response from an armed police officer,” said Herbold.

Herbold is no stranger to the topic of police reform. Back in August 2020 she spearheaded a vote that began defunding the police and cutting 100 officers from the 1,400-person police force. She also advocated for legislation that would drop misdemeanor charges for people that suffer from substance abuse, mental health issues, or poverty—though, ironically, in December 2020 she called the police to her home after someone reportedly threw a rock into her living room window.

The crisis response team will be closely monitored and the Seattle Police Department will still be aware of the dispatch of the team and may attend or stage nearby in some cases.

“It’s really exciting that we’re finally up and running with hiring the folks who will be doing this really important work that we have been working on since, I think, August of 2020,” said Herbold.

The program has been applauded by some, but there are also skeptics who are concerned that the team may not be fully equipped or skilled enough to handle dangerous situations, or that the police could still be needed even if the crisis responders are dispatched.

But Herbold and other supporters remain hopeful that the new approach will help draft policy that ultimately not only keeps the public safe, but also recognizes how difficult the job of police officers is and respects the uniqueness of their role.


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