Seattle's new CARE Department will help provide more response options to public safety calls

Seattle’s mayor hopes to diversify response options to calls for help with the city’s new public safety department

On Thursday, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the launch of the Community Assisted Response and Engagement Department, known as CARE.

Sometimes when people call 911, their incident may not be as urgent as other 911 calls. From a welfare check to a car prowl or theft with no suspect information—Chief Adrian Diaz said those were examples of Priority Three and Priority Four level calls.

"You have a person down call—where the person is not committing a crime, could be highly intoxicated, might end up needing medical assistance, might need other resources or services. We end up having to go to it, but it’s sometimes calls that could actually be better handled by somebody else," said Diaz.

"You cannot have enough police to get to all these calls. It’s just too many. So, we start there and look at the call data and then there’s this basic question—was police or fire required? Could somebody else get an equal response to sometimes even a better response?" said Amy Smith, chief of the CARE Department.

Smith explained members of the CARE Department would primarily respond to the Priority Three and Priority Four level calls, freeing up police officers and firefighters to handle higher emergencies.

"When I go on ride-alongs with co-response teams, often, quickly, we see it’s the MHP-- the mental health professional-- that needs to speak, sometimes for 45 minutes to connect someone for services appropriately and make sure things are ok. And that officer is stuck, they can’t move on and are just there while the radio is going and calls are needed. So, originally, the thought was just ‘let’s drive some efficiency here and make sure people can get to more calls more effectively,’" said Smith.

CARE will consist of emergency dispatchers, community-based public safety responders and violence intervention specialists responding to these community needs.

Smith said CARE’s work is informed by Transform 911 research. She said she has also studied the successes of similar programs in Durham, North Carolina, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Denver, Colorado.


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"We’re actually rolling out new protocols that are more refined that use more sophisticated technology to be able to better predict when dual dispatch is appropriate—the officer can arrive, but then can leave," said Smith. "We will be really rigorous, the way we already are in dispatch, to ensure that there is really no threat of violence. I hear sometimes the concern is that social workers are going to get shot, but this is not happening because we are so thoughtful about that initial point of contact in 911."

CARE will be Seattle’s third public safety department. Diaz said he believed the extra resources in the city would help the police department.

"We know that staffing is a challenge, we know that we’re having a hard time being able to reach all the not usually the Priority One calls that are an issue, even Priority Two is not an issue. But once you start to get Priority Three, that does become some of an issue where a response time can take up to an hour if not longer than that. So, for us to have other resources that can also be able to manage and handle some of that work, we’re extremely interested in being able to do that because it makes the whole city much more responsive," said Diaz.

Harrell said CARE’s pilot program would launch in October 2023. 

During his announcement of the department, Harrell said his 2024 budget proposal would include $26.5 million for the CARE department. This would be a 30 percent increase in CARE’s budget.

"This investment will allow us to hire 13 additional full-time staff and make much-needed technology upgrades for this kind of work and support enhanced violence prevention and intervention efforts," said Harrell. 

The mayor said he would be presenting his 2024 budget proposal next week.