Public safety expert says he's disturbed over Seattle City Council members' lack of knowledge on 911 calls

It’s Monday morning in Northeast Seattle, a man walks by greeting workers with American Environmental at a job site.

Surveillance video then catches that same man stealing the van shortly after.  

“A lot of stuff in that truck and a lot of it went with the truck when it got stolen,” employee Kendra Bunnell said.

That’s not all because 20 minutes later, the Seattle company gets a call.

“We get a call in the office saying hey your truck is driving down 9th Ave and hit 4 cars,” Bunnell said.

Employees are frustrated over the costly crime but also that it took more than 4 hours for an SPD officer to respond.

Employee Dee Surface was the employee who waited to file a report.

When Surface asked dispatch when they could expect an officer, she was told after they cleared emergency calls.

In 2019, more than 270,000 calls to SPD resulted in dispatch and 94% of those calls were priority 1,2 or 3 calls.

Priority 1 calls are emergencies needing immediate response including violent crime like shootings and serious assaults.

Priority 2 calls are urgent and priority 3 calls require a prompt response.

The crime has already happened in many of the priority 3 calls but victims are still waiting to speak to an officer.  

Monday’s truck theft is a priority 3 call, not life-threatening but still serious.

As Seattle City Council pushes forward for deep cuts to policing, Council Member Tammy Morales who wants to cut SPD’s budget in half said this in a Tuesday committee meeting.

“Most of the 911 calls that are made are not for crimes, are nuisance calls and we can’t demonstrate that random patrols actually prevent crime or protect the public,” Morales said.

Public safety expert Scott Lindsay says that is simply not true or based on data that is publicly available to everyone.

“In fact in 2019, only 6% of the Seattle Police dispatch responses were for anything you could call a nuisance,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay who worked as the city’s public safety advisor for former mayor Ed Murray spends a lot of time analyzing SPD’s data.

He says it’s alarming to him that council members are voicing misinformation and don’t have a basic understanding of how 911 calls are managed.  

On Tuesday, Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said a simple solution to help decrease the need for police would be to have a registered nurse at the 911 call center. She said many of the calls were medical therefore it would reduce many of the patrol officers to be in the field.

“Those calls that are medical emergencies are already routed to the fire department, they don’t impact patrol numbers, a fundamental misunderstanding that’s coming from the budget chair,” Lindsay said.

Many of the 911 calls are non-criminal but still high priority incidents. Calls that can include saving someone from a suicide, car accidents and missing people. As for reimagining policing, Lindsay says some calls can be handled by social workers. It’s an idea that’s been floated but Lindsay says the data shows only 1.5% of the 911 calls from 2019 would have just required a social worker alone.

Q13 News requested interviews with Mosqueda and Morales on Thursday but they were not made available to us.

“City council needs to really explain what these alternatives will look like before we move to cutting the police department budget,” Lindsay said.

As for the employees at American Environmental, they want a timely response and their case resolved.

“They are going to call in social workers what about he committed a crime and he caused physical damage,” Surface said.

“They want to cut the force and it’s going to make Seattle even worse,” Bunnell said.