The Seattle Police Department is unveiling its new Community Response Group, a 100-officer unit that interim Chief Adrian Diaz said is helping bring down 911 response times on Capitol Hill and across the city.
Diaz said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the SPD’s West Precinct that the group has responded to 400 incidents and they are arriving at the scenes of crimes in under seven minutes. The unit also includes 10 sergeants.
Diaz used the example of the response group’s work last Friday, as police responded to major vehicle collisions, violent crime, and continued demonstrations against police brutality simultaneously, to argue that the city should not look to cut the police force as some Seattle City Council members have proposed. The council and Mayor Jenny Durkan have just begun their 2021 budgeting process, which will continue into November.
“This just tells you the need for officers to be out and being engaged and being connected and being able to respond to 911,” Diaz said. “I am concerned when we talk about making the department smaller because a Friday night, it tapped almost every level of resource that we had, but we were able to do that because we made these adjustments early on in my tenure.”
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Diaz took over following Chief Carmen Best’s retirement this summer.
Durkan’s budget proposal includes no officer layoffs and moving several units, including the department’s 911 call center and parking enforcement, out of SPD.
This new unit arrives, however, as some community members have questioned whether or not armed police officers should be responding to some incidents at all.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a proposal in July to fund a new mental health and substance abuse first-responder program within the city’s 911 system.
“As we all know there is much more work to be done regarding improving our public safety, to provide public safety that works for everyone in Seattle, so that when you call 911 you get the right response right away,” Councilmember Dan Strauss said in August.
SPD says that because the new unit is not assigned to any one specific precinct, “its officers can go where they’re needed, when they’re needed.”
“These officers will also respond to demonstrations, freeing up patrol officers to handle 911 calls,” the SPD announcement reads. “When CRG officers are not engaged with demonstrations, they will backup patrol officers on investigations and other 911 calls.”
The new unit also comes as SPD statistics show that crime has dropped during the ongoing pandemic restrictions across the city — even in the areas around CHOP this summer. Crime across all categories tracked by SPD was down nearly 12% across the city through August in comparison to the last two years of data. In the East Precinct including Capitol Hill and the Central District — despite the massive influx of protesters, demonstrators, and campers during months of unrest and the CHOP occupied protest — crime dropped 4% through August. In June during the height of CHOP, crime — including everything from animal cruelty to street robberies — dropped a whopping 14% from recent years across the precinct.
Community advisory groups will “have the ability to notify the precincts of things they are seeing, needs they have, and those also will be funneled to our group, who will then look to resolve community interest and community needs,” group leader Capt. Mike Edwards said at the press conference.
Instead of those community groups having a direct line to the citywide Community Response Group, it instead appears the precinct captains will be the ones to contact the group to communicate both internal needs, such as staffing, and community needs.
“Their work will be driven by community needs and will be done with the community,” said Diaz, who noted that officers in the group volunteered. “This is something that is so valuable for us that we find ourselves maybe a little bit disconnected with the community and so I think this is a great opportunity for us to just talk with businesses and residents, as well.”
Capt. Edwards is a 40-year veteran of the force and former commander of the East Precinct. CHS spoke with him in 2013 as he started his command. He also served as president of the controversial Seattle Police Officers Guild from 1996 to 2002. Like many in SPD’s senior ranks, Edwards played a role in designing and implementing the department’s response to Department of Justice’s consent decree over SPD’s use of force and treatment of minorities. A Federal monitor cited Edwards’ work as training captain for SPD’s weekly Use of Force Review Board meetings as “admirable” in a report on the department’s reforms. His older brother William Edwards formerly served as SPD’s director of parking enforcement.
New East Precinct commander Capt. Eric Sano is declining media requests for interviews, a departments spokesperson said. Sano did speak with KOMO in August when he discussed the challenge of trying to build connections with the neighborhood after the addition of the large cement wall barrier around his precinct.
Diaz conceded that officer morale has been low in the past several months given increasing pressure on the department with ongoing protests that the interim chief said have become smaller and more manageable recently. This compares to other points when there were some demonstrations, Diaz said, that required pulling every officer off of patrol to respond.
He said he thought there was a shift in morale this week, however.
“Not having to handle demonstration after demonstration after demonstration and so I think if we can get back to police work, that’s what we really want to do,” Diaz said.