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Mayor Harrell Announces Citywide CARE Expansion

New Partnerships and Seven Day a Week Citywide Expansion Proposal Follows Success of Dual Dispatch Pilot

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced his proposal to expand the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) department behavioral health responder team, hiring additional responders and expanding citywide, seven days a week following the success of the dual dispatch pilot launched last October. Data from the pilot has shown through hundreds of emergency dispatch calls that CARE responders were able to safely assist community members in need and free up scarce police resources for higher priority calls. As part of the expansion plan, the CARE department will launch new partnerships with Seattle University, the University of Washington, Crisis Solutions Center, and others.

“Since we launched this innovative public safety pilot, the CARE responder team has done outstanding work to both help people in need and to free up police officers to respond to the calls where they’re needed most. That’s why we are announcing our plan to expand CARE to answer calls citywide, seven days a week,” said Mayor Harrell. “We are creating a new paradigm in public safety – this expansion plan means people in every neighborhood in our city will have an array of responders to make the biggest difference based on their need. This plan is informed by 9-1-1 call data, and we will continue to be rigorous in evaluating this work. I want to thank our many partners in this effort, with special thanks to Representatives Smith and Jayapal who were integral in securing needed federal support to fund this pilot expansion.”

The expansion plan calls for hiring an additional 18 responders and three supervisors in the coming months and will immediately extend the current service area from Downtown, SODO, and the Chinatown-International District to additional neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, Central Area, First Hill, Judkins Park, Madison Park, Montlake, and upper Pike/Pine. This coverage will align with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) West and East precincts. The phased expansion – based on an analysis of 9-1-1 call volume and requests – targets this fall for expansion into North Seattle, followed by South and Southwest Seattle by the end of 2024.

The proposal for an additional 21 positions will be included in Mayor Harrell’s Mid-Year Supplemental Budget request, with 2024 costs fully funded through $1.9 million in federal funding due to Congressman Adam Smith and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s support. The mayor also announced that he will nominate CARE Acting Chief Amy Smith to serve as the department’s permanent Chief, which is subject to City Council approval.

“I commend Mayor Harrell and the Seattle City Council for sharing a vision to establish three co-equal departments of first responders, led by three significant voices in one collaborative conversation,” said CARE Acting Chief Smith. “Since the launch of our responder pilot it has been clear that the effectiveness of our public safety response relies on the strength of relationships and mutual trust. Our integration and partnerships with community and nonprofit organizations is both significant and vital because the objective is not just to provide the best first response to a 9-1-1 call, but then to swiftly help someone onto whatever rehabilitative or supportive path they need.”

The CARE department dual dispatch pilot launched with a focus on rigorous data and intentional partnerships, and the expansion plan will redouble that effort with evaluation, placements, and more empowered responders. The City will work with the Seattle University Department of Criminal Justice on an upcoming evaluation of the CARE Team, including field observations, analysis of call response data, and the collection of feedback from public safety partners. A new collaboration with the University of Washington School of Social Work will develop master’s level practicum placements with CARE. The responder team will also begin piloting direct referrals to the Crisis Solutions Center, increasing options to help people in need get the appropriate help and so that officers don’t need to return to previously secured scenes.

“Seattle is leading the way nationally in developing alternatives to traditional policing for situations where that traditional model is not what is called for,” said Seattle University President Eduardo Peñalver. “We are proud to be doing our part to support this work through the Seattle University Crime and Justice Research Center and its distinguished faculty as well as its student researchers. Seattle University applauds Mayor Harrell and Acting Chief Smith for their innovative and progressive work in conceiving and rolling out the CARE team.”

Since launching last fall, the CARE team safely responded to over 500 dispatch calls, with an average response time of less than ten minutes and an average time on scene of 39 minutes. 88% of calls came primarily from police officers requesting assistance and the remaining 12% were dispatches from the 9-1-1 Center for known high utilizers of emergency services. The most common request on calls, 38%, involved transport to locations such as shelters and day centers, a timely process that previously would have taken police away from other safety priorities. Other common responses include direct behavioral interventions and crisis de-escalation, resource navigation and assistance finding services, and connecting people with basic supplies like food, water, clothing, and hygiene items.

As a mark of the success of the pilot, data for April and May shows that across 125 total calls, SPD was able to secure the scene, hand off to CARE, and leave for other priorities over half the time. An analysis of 9-1-1 calls from 2023 found approximately 8,000 calls which could be appropriate for the CARE Community Crisis response team under expansion plans.

“We can’t succeed in public safety if we don’t also succeed in public health. Our CARE Team is central to that mission,” said Councilmember Bob Kettle (District 7, Downtown to Magnolia), Chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “When we create a more diversified and targeted response to 911 calls, we create a more efficient and effective response system that resolves emergencies faster. That’s life saving work. Every neighborhood I go to, I hear questions from people asking when CARE will be expanded to their neighborhood. I’m proud to say the work has begun.”

The expansion plan would segment Seattle into three phases of response zone expansion Central, corresponding to SPD’s East and West precincts, North, corresponding to the North precinct and split into two sub-zones of Northeast and Northwest along I-5, and South, corresponding the South and Southwest precincts. This phased expansion plan is based on analysis of 9-1-1 calls from 2023, which showed that for low acuity calls that CARE could independently respond to there was an average of 29 calls per day in the Central zone, 19 calls per day in the North Zone, and 12 calls per day in the South zone.

The CARE department will identify an additional five secure locations to deploy from as part of the expansion, which will start with exploring co-location in existing City facilities. The department will also purchase additional vehicles for the new teams, including SUVs and ADA accessible vans. The response team will adjust operating hours to 12pm – 10pm based on call data, and to support this change will adjust to 10-hour shifts with four-days-on and three-days-off, in-line with SPD patrol shifts.

The CARE department will continue to develop partnerships and share information with diversified response programs in other cities, as it is increasingly recognized as a national leader in this important work. The department will also continue community education efforts for awareness of this newly expanded service and work to better integrate and partner with other City departments as part of Mayor Harrell’s comprehensive One Seattle approach to community safety.

What People Are Saying

Representative Adam Smith (WA-09)

“Mayor Harrell’s announcement today to expand the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) Department represents our shared commitment to tackling our region’s behavioral health and substance use crises. I helped secure over $1.9 million in federal funding to support the CARE Department because of its ability to connect individuals in crisis with crucial stabilization services they need to recover. This investment in the department’s behavioral health responder team will help transform our approach to public safety and make our region a safer place to live for everyone.”

Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07)

“As public safety departments around the country have struggled to deal with mental health and social needs, Seattle’s Community Assisted Response & Engagement Department has been a major success in getting people the care they need, when they need it. I’ve been proud to support federal funding to this department, and will continue to do so to ensure that people get the specialized care they need and the burden is lifted on law enforcement. It’s so great to see Seattle leading the way on this holistic approach and serve as a model for cities and states across the country.”

Councilmember Rob Saka, District 1 (West Seattle, South Park, Georgetown), Vice-Chair, Council Public Safety Committee

“Expansion of our new CARE Department has always been one of my top early public safety priorities. This department provides an innovative and diversified response model to address our public safety and public health challenges. I want to thank the Mayor, Congressman Adam Smith, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal for their leadership to ensure that neighborhoods throughout the city can now be served.”

Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth, District 3 (Central Seattle)

“I have been impressed by the incredible work that the CARE team has done to respond to behavioral health emergencies in Downtown, SODO, and the Chinatown-International District in the short time that the team has been active. The need for the CARE department’s services in District 3 is clear, and I commend Mayor Harrell and Chief Smith for prioritizing D3 neighborhoods in this expansion. I look forward to the CARE department’s presence in District 3 and their partnership with Seattle University, which will help demonstrate the positive impact that the department’s behavioral health responder teams are having on our public safety system.”

Councilmember Cathy Moore, District 5 (North Seattle)

“I am excited to see this critical program is being expanded to include the North end of Seattle starting this Fall. We have many people in crisis in the North end, and to know they will soon have the help of the crisis responders at CARE is tremendously encouraging for the future health and safety of our North end community. I am grateful Mayor Harrell is taking action to meet this need.”

Councilmember Dan Strauss, District 6 (Northeast Seattle)

“When Seattleites call 911, they deserve a quick response on the other end of the line. Our CARE Team is a vital part of the system. By responding to calls that they’re best equipped to handle, we achieve better outcomes and free up our police officers to focus their time on addressing crime.”

Councilmember Tanya Woo, Position 8 (Citywide)

“During my CARE ride-along and through my community work, I have witnessed firsthand the advantages of a community-driven, diversified approach to handling public safety and public health incidents. I’m excited that the rest of Seattle will soon experience these benefits. The expansion of the CARE team, working alongside the Seattle Police Department and other first responders, is a momentous step toward meeting our city’s safety needs.”

Judge John McHale, KC Superior Court

“As a former King County Superior Court Involuntary Treatment Act Court Lead Judge and as the current Drug Diversion Court Judge, I believe the City of Seattle is taking the absolute right approach with its CARE Responder Team. Direct, informed, and compassionate responses to behavioral health crisis situations are critical in safely resolving crises at hand for all involved. Moreover, informed, and caring, immediate responses make a big difference in helping individuals to receive the care needed for long term success.”

Sue Rahr, Seattle Interim Chief of Police

“The Seattle Police Department is grateful for the expansion of CARE. They are a great resource to our Department and the community we serve. Our West Precinct officers have formed strong partnerships with CARE and often call for their assistance, even when not initially co-dispatched. We share mutual respect and look forward to expanded opportunities to collaborate. Particularly with our current staffing crisis, officers appreciate the CARE Team and the assistance they provide.”

Harold Scoggins, Seattle Fire Chief

“Alternative 9-1-1 response is a proven strategy that is transforming how Seattle serves people in crisis. The Seattle Fire Department and its Health One units, which are staffed with firefighter/EMTs and a case worker, have worked cohesively with the CARE department to provide the best resources to those in need of alternative and non-emergency services. Between our teams, we are jointly working to reduce the impact to our firefighter/EMTs, paramedics and police officers.”

Jennifer Stuber, Associate Professor, UW School of Social Work

“Expansion of the Seattle CARE program is an important step forward for the city to continue to re-imagine the crisis response landscape. It will help our first responders focus their energy where it’s most needed and, it will help our communities to feel more supported.”

Tija Petrovich, Chair, Pioneer Square Residents Council

“My City’s CARE department is a valuable and stabilizing community resource for public safety. Having trained staff immediately ‘there’ in emergency situations with our most vulnerable neighbors is immeasurable. I have observed the teams at work in my neighborhood. They are compassionate, professional, effective, and innovative in their responses to non-violent behavior health crises.”

Jon Scholes, Downtown Seattle Association President & CEO

“Under CARE acting chief Amy Smith’s leadership, we’ve seen a new public safety team downtown become a critical part of our community’s response. At a time when SPD resources are stretched thin, the CARE team’s work has freed up police for more appropriate calls. With the expansion of the CARE department, we’re greatly enhancing the connectivity between law enforcement and service providers to improve public safety for the community.”

Don Blakeney, Executive Director of The University District Partnership

“The Mayor’s plan to expand the CARE Department’s behavioral health responder team is an important step to rebuilding our City’s ability to help to people in crisis while giving much needed capacity back to our police who need to be able to respond to priority-one calls. We look forward to this program expanding to North Seattle this fall and are excited to see the City partner with local universities to create a career path for Seattle’s next generation of emergency responders.”

Dominique Alex, Mary’s Place Chief Executive Officer

“With the expansion of the CARE team, we have a system that doesn’t just respond to crises but walks alongside individuals every step of the way addressing both the immediate needs of navigating complex systems and access the resources they need and deserve, but long-term goals and challenges. By creating a truly coordinated, person-centric continuum of care, we can transform how we support our neighbors most impacted by inequities and move from merely managing crises to fostering genuine, lasting change in people’s lives.”

Loria Yeadon, President/CEO of YMCA of Greater Seattle

“Any individual experiencing a crisis in our community deserves a compassionate response that guides them to safety quickly. Expanding the CARE Community Crisis Responder Teams throughout Seattle will have a huge impact. At the Y’s Social Impact Center, we have seen the impact of providing trauma-informed care in periods of crisis, through our behavioral health crisis programming for youth and young adults. When people are treated with dignity, respect, and care, they are given a true opportunity for recovery.”

Brian Chandler, Director of External Affairs, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

“Amidst the growing homelessness crisis, we applaud the additional resources to increase the crucial support the CARE team provides to our homeless neighbors.”

Tahir Duckett, Executive Director, Center for Innovations in Community Safety, Georgetown University Law School

“Response programs like CARE are among the most important innovations in municipal governments in recent years. These programs allow cities to finally provide the right response to the most vulnerable residents while reducing the burden of the rest of the first response infrastructure. But they only work if we invest seriously in their success; they need the necessary resources to put responders on the streets, to improve operations and efficiency, and to solve the inevitable problems that arise when you’re building something new.

Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Director of Policing Project, New York University School of Law

“The clear trend in public safety is incorporating alternatives to sole police response as part of a jurisdiction’s choices for responses to people in need. Jurisdictions around the country are finding increasing demand, and public satisfaction. Police in many places support these alternatives, permitting them to focus on their primary task of fighting violent crime. Seattle, a trend-setting city in so many ways, is well-advised to expand its alternatives in dealing with people who are unhoused, or in crisis in some way. Although there are a variety of models, the most forward-looking cities are creating new departments of public safety that include and house these alternatives.”