Seattle still pushing for unarmed social workers to respond to calls as councilors attack police

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SEATTLE, WA – In a city that is constantly dealing with crime, homelessness, substance abuse and severe mental health issues, neither the Seattle Police Department (SPD) nor the Seattle Fire Department (SFPD) will be the ones to respond to mental crisis calls.

According to Fox News, those specific 911 calls will soon be answered by “unarmed crisis responders.” These folks are part of a new “alternate response team” spearheaded by a Democratic council member.

On Friday, August 22nd, Councilwoman Lisa Herbold announced that the city was to hire its first six new positions for the new pilot program. 

“Well, you know," Herbold said, "usually I’m complaining about how delayed we are and how frustrated I am that we’re not meeting our benchmarks for developing this program. But today, I’m really, really happy to report that the city is hiring for the six positions for its first pilot alternate response team. It’s going to be a way for 911 operators to dispatch calls to somebody other than police, somebody other than fire, a crisis responder who is unarmed.

“The police department will be aware of the dispatch. They may attend, they may stage nearby, or they just may have situational awareness. Each call is going to be different, but it’s really exciting that we’re finally up and running with hiring folks who will be doing this really important work that we have been working on since, I think, August of 2020.”

A few days after the announcement, journalist Jonahthan Choe shared a video of what Seattle police deal with when it comes to helping someone who is having a mental health crisis. He questioned how this scenario may play out with unarmed social workers leading the way.

The video showed a woman who was very clearly suffering through a mental health crisis and who was verbally and physically abusive to the officers. The officers stayed with her until she was safely taken away by the ambulance.

Choe praised the officers, saying, “The officers conducted a master class on responding to this mental health crisis. Look at the patience and care shown to this woman who was literally spitting in the face of these officers. Thankfully the incident ended peacefully.

“Now imagine an unarmed social worker going into this scene without police? Well that could happen very soon in this city … I think it’s fair to say, it’s going to be risky and dangerous.”

It seems others are not too confident in the pilot program either. Below are a few responses to the story posted by Choe on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Karen Olsen replied by saying, “Interesting. Was she having a mental health crisis, or was she under the influence of something? As for social workers, more of them are needed; but there’s no need to send them out unarmed and alone. Police and mental health professionals should team up in such cases.”

Nicole Carpenter with the Tuesday Gazette wrote, “@SeattlePD truly deserve our highest respect for the stuff they deal with on a daily basis. This was so well-handled.”

Andrew Wong said, “Difference is that cops know every day on the job is life or death but they still show up to work. Will that be said of these unarmed social workers?”

Sarah Speidel wrote, “I can’t imagine a single social worker signing up for this.”

The 911 Dual Dispatch/Alternate Crisis Response program reportedly received $1.6 million in August as part of the midyear supplemental budget.

Herbold’s website gave a little insight into what is to happen on these calls.

“The new dual dispatch program will send mental health professionals as the first responders to 911 class involving people in behavioral health crises," the website says. "Those mental health professionals will have police backup available to them, but SPD officers would only approach if needed.”

Herbold was originally behind the vote to that began defunding SPD back in August 2020. The plan cut 100 officers from the city’s 1,400 police force and $3 million form the police’s $400 million budget.

Around the same time, Herbold also allegedly supported legislation that would drop misdemeanor charges for defendants who suffer from substance abuse, have a mental health disorder or live in poverty.

However, sometime back in December 2020, the councilwoman called the police to her home after a man allegedly threw a rock through her living room window.

Ironically, under proposed legislation, the suspect would potentially avoid criminal charges if caught for that specific crime.
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