A new policy for the Seattle Police Department aims to change how officers handle crisis situations with people who are mentally ill or under the influence. The crisis intervention policy, which takes effect Monday, is part of the city’s federally-mandated police reforms.
A key component calls for officers to de-escalate a situation whenever feasible, in line with standard law enforcement practices.
In 2011, a federal investigation found Seattle police officers too often used excessive force. The feds also found the patterns of force mostly arose during encounters with people who have mental illness or are impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Gazala Uradnik is with the Seattle office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is part of the committee that’s helped craft these new police guidelines.
Uradnik said she’s hopeful the policy will help officers gain a new awareness "that someone with mental illness isn’t going to necessarily be violent and there is just a way to step back and calmly have a conversation with the person."
Uradnik said she thinks a calmer approach would would be beneficial to the officer and to the person they’re confronting.
Seattle Police's new policy calls for a team of officers to be specially trained to take the lead at the scene where someone is having a "behavioral crisis." The training includes a 40-hour course, exam and additional training each year
Uradnik called that level of training a good start.
For the first time, Seattle Police will also gather data about every encounter with someone in this type of crisis.
“SPD’s data shows that far too many situations requiring force involve people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues," said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan in a written statement. "This new policy creates critical new organizational and operational changes for the Seattle Police Department that will guide and help officers when dealing with such individuals."