The promised third public safety department that the Mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, has vowed to establish will receive an additional $6 million in financing when it begins its partial launch in October.
At a news conference on Thursday, Harrell made the announcement that he will provide additional funding for the Community Assisted Response and Engagement department. This department is a new branch of the city’s public safety response, and it will eventually house alternative and dual response options. These options will add civilian responders to certain emergency calls. The police and fire departments will also receive this funding.
The total budget is increased to $26.5 million as a result of the new financing, and the number of full-time staff is increased from 10 to 13.
“Our new CARE department will deliver on Seattle’s long-standing need for a public safety system with diverse emergency response options designed to meet community needs,” Harrell said Thursday. “This long-standing need has been for a public safety system that is designed to meet the needs of the community.”
The purpose of the CARE department is to dispatch civilian responders to specific emergency situations that do not justify the involvement of the police or fire departments, or that require someone in addition to the services provided by other agencies.
In the early days of his administration, Harrell made a commitment to establishing some type of a third public safety department, which would go into operation by the year 2024. This department would be somewhat modelled after the one in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The office of the mayor has stated that the new agency will be divided into three sections: “emergency call takers and dispatchers,” “community-focused public safety responders,” which will include professionals who specialise in behavioural health, and “violence intervention specialists.”
Harrell made the announcement that a dual dispatch programme that had been approved by the City Council will serve as the pilot launch for the CARE department last winter. The CARE department is housed in the Community Safety and Communications Centre, which also houses the city’s 911 dispatchers. Harrell’s announcement came after a slow rollout of details regarding the programme.
The CARE department will start its work sometime in October, with an initial concentration on low-risk priority 3 and priority 4 calls, such as person-down scenarios and welfare checks. These calls may come in at any time. Training for the new members of the dual dispatch team started this week after the initial hiring of ten new members. The budget that Harrell has suggested for the year 2024 will include funding for the new positions.
According to Harrell, there is no predetermined end date for the pilot programme; however, the city will attempt to expand the CARE department utilising “evidence-based solutions” based on the success of the dual dispatch team. This will be done in response to the progress made by the dual dispatch team.
In the weeks leading up to the launch of the CARE team, there has been a significant shift in the leadership of the project. Harrell’s niece and a former Senior Deputy Mayor, Monisha Harrell, who oversaw public safety projects, left the administration this summer, and CSCC Director Rebecca Gonzales left her role overseeing the department this month. Both of these changes have had a significant impact on the implementation of the CARE team.
Amy Smith was recently promoted to the position of deputy director of the CSCC, replacing Gonzales, who was sent back to the Seattle Fire Department after being selected by Harrell to manage the newly formed CSCC in January. Gonzales had spent over 30 years working for the SFD. According to what Harrell stated on Thursday, Gonzales “was always going to go back to the fire department.”
“Rebecca served in the role of interim. She will be returning to the fire department in the role of deputy chief, and “I tried—I hope I thanked her for laying the foundation for what we’re doing,” Harrell said. She will be returning to the fire department.
Smith, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins will all report directly to Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess. Burgess was moved from his role as director of strategic initiatives to the position of deputy mayor after Monisha Harrell departed her position in that capacity.
The announcement serves as the first look at Harrell’s second proposed budget, which will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday. This will kick off the process of amending and approving the budget, which will take two months. It also comes one day after Mayor Harrell gave his signature to a contentious law that was approved by the City Council earlier this week. The bill grants the city attorney the authority to charge drug use in public and knowing possession with the more serious offence of gross misdemeanour.
Harrell has made a commitment to the support of divergence programmes, which emphasise treatment options rather than incarceration or jail time for those who break the law. Harrell responded that he “wasn’t quite prepared” to address the question when he was asked how these priorities will be represented in the forthcoming budget that he will be drafting.
An additional statement from a spokeswoman stated that “this administration is committed to diversion.”
In addition, Harrell stated that the city’s 911 centre is on schedule to be fully staffed by the end of the year. In 2023 alone, the centre employed more than 45 additional employees, so it is well on its way to reaching this goal.
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