Reimagining Public Safety in Urban Unincorporated King County
Reimagining Public Safety in Urban Unincorporated King County
Public Safety Pilot Program Scenario Recommendations
In 2020 King County committed to addressing racism as a public health crisis by investing in community wellness to combat longstanding disproportionate impacts experienced by low-income and BIPOC communities—impacts further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of that work, over the course of 2021, King County worked closely with community in an endeavor to reimagine public safety with community at the forefront. In 2021 residents across King County—with a focus on urban unincorporated King County—shared their lived experiences and ideas for reimagining public safety via community meetings, focus groups, and a comprehensive reimagining public safety survey. Over 2,600 King County residents, including more than 700 who reside in urban unincorporated King County, offered their time, lived experience, ideas, and perspectives throughout the engagement process. Their input played a vital role in King County’s staff’s work to channel what we heard into a set of scenarios for a pilot program to truly begin reimaging public safety.
You can read more details about the feedback King County received online: Reimagining Public Safety in Urban Unincorporated King County - King County. The key findings from the conversations and engagement with community are:
Residents want a well-staffed King County Sheriff’s Office to address slow response times and increase the amount of police presence they see in their neighborhoods.
When in an emergency or other unsafe situation that requires a professional response, residents want a specialized approach to finding a resolution; an alternative response needs to be an option.
Residents stated a belief that Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians are not best equipped to handle behavioral health issues. Innovation is needed to coordinate an optimal response with other departments and agencies.
Using these key findings as a guide, as well as more in-depth data from the survey responses, King County staff has developed the following set of scenarios that could serve as a pilot program for reimagining public safety in Urban Unincorporated King County.
Pilot Program Scenarios
The scenarios are broken down into three general approaches:
Behavioral Health Crisis Co-Response
Alternative Non-Law Enforcement Crisis Response
Community Responders model
Each model approach is broken down below with additional information to provide additional details of what they may entail.
Behavioral Health Crisis Response (Co-Response) Model
A Behavioral Health Crisis Co-Response approach would focus resources residents experiencing mental health issues, homelessness, and or substance abuse. This would be achieved by pairing a behavioral health professional with a Sheriff’s Deputy as they respond to emergencies together.
Behavioral Health Response Teams (BHRT): In this model, a Mental Health Professional (MHP) and two Peer Navigators, work in collaboration with existing crisis response teams to address behavioral health needs in the community. They also help provide care to individuals with high utilization of the 911 system due to suspected behavioral health needs. This approach provides a wraparound plan with dedicated Mental Health Professionals and Mental Health Navigators available to law enforcement and other identified referral sources during work hours.
Examples of existing teams:
The South King County Co-Responder Program is a partnership that includes the police departments of Algona, Auburn, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Pacific, Renton, and Tukwila
The Seattle Co-Responder Program is a partnership that includes the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle Fire Department.
Staffing: MHP, Peer Navigators, and KCSO Sheriff’s Deputies
Alternative Non-Law Enforcement Crisis Response Model
This approach would specifically set up an alternate response model for situations involving homelessness, substance abuse, and or mental health issues. The goal is to train 911 operators to identify low-risk calls where there is no imminent risk that a non-law enforcement professional can respond.
This model is currently planned for a launch in Burien and North Highline and could serve as a starting point to expand into other urban unincorporated areas.
Crisis Response Team (CRT): One Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and one Mental Health Professional in a branded vehicle provide care to individuals with high utilization of the 911 system due to suspected behavioral health needs as well as other vulnerable community members. The CRT also may also coordinate with law enforcement, and clinicians to work together in response to calls for service involving a person experiencing a crisis. This model provides appropriate alternatives to arrest as well as additional options to respond to non-criminal calls. Communities and local leaders can use the model to develop a crisis continuum of care that results in the reduction of harm, arrests, and use of jails and emergency departments and that promotes the development of and access to quality services.
Burien Pilot Proposal:
One EMT and One Mental Health Professional in a branded vehicle with office space at Burien Fire Station. CRT will work four, 10-hour shifts, Monday-Thursday, 8AM-6PM. CRT calls are not all police and fire . Some calls will be a joint response, or CRT could be summoned to a police or fire call after it is determined their services are a better match to resolve the situation. If there is any indication of violence or weapons CRT cannot respond.
Staffing: EMT, MHP, and in some instances KCSO Sheriff’s Deputy
Community Responders Model
Reimagining public safety provides an opportunity for King County to empower more community members to have an organized and direct role in keeping their neighborhoods safe. Increased access to professional training and employment on its own helps to reduce crime. Programs that utilize a team of community responders who have deep knowledge about their community based on lived experience have seen success in reducing gun violence. When residents who mistrust 911 and law enforcement are in crisis, they often try to themselves or call a friend or family member for help.
Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPKC): Trusted members of the community deliver support and provide services for the highest-risk young people and families impacted most, and address violence using a public health approach that ensures the treatment and recovery of all people involved. They specifically use community violence intervention, prevention, and restoration (IPR) efforts to serve youth who and is most successful when providing wrap-around services and coordinated care. Under the unique banner of IPR, the RPKC partners will organize collaboratively to provide:
Rigorous intervention for those directly involved
Secondary prevention for younger siblings
Follow-up care and support for family restoration and healing
Partners include Alive & Free, Choose180, Community Passageways, Freedom Project, Progress Pushers, Renegades for Life Youth Outreach, and UW Harborview Medical Center.
Community Service Officers (CSOs): provide non-law enforcement services to the community that relieves police officers of some tasks that do not require police legal authority. CSOs are uniformed, non-commissioned officers who are responsible for community policing functions, but do not have police powers of arrest or enforcement. They are required to obey all laws of the United States government, the State of Washington, and the County of King.
A CSO’s role is to relieve sheriff deputies in calls for service that do not require police powers of arrest or enforcement. CSO’s can provide a variety of services to the community such as:
Provide conflict resolution in family, neighbor, and landlord/tenant situations.
Provide referrals to social agencies for people experiencing substance abuse, homelessness, and persons in crisis etc.
Provide language translation services.
Engage and assist in community crime prevention programs.
Serve as a liaison to community groups and attend community meetings.
Assist with community outreach programs.
Because CSOs do not have police powers of arrest or enforcement, they would not participate in an initial response to high-risk situations such as persons with weapons and assaults etc.
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