Report: Seattle police officers rarely use force against people in crisis

SEATTLE -- Seattle police officers rarely use force against people in crisis, that according to new data released Monday that reflects contacts made between May 15, 2015, and Aug. 15, 2015.

The data, released by the Seattle Police Department, showed that officers used force against a person in crisis in fewer than 2% of interactions — 49 out of 2,464. None of the contacts resulted in the use of deadly force.

The Department of Justice on Monday commended the numbers, suggesting Seattle police have come a long way since the federal government found that officers engaged in a “pattern or practice” of using excessive force and sometimes resorted to force too quickly.

"The data released by SPD is very encouraging and demonstrates that the consent decree driven organizational and operational changes around crisis intervention are taking root,” U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes wrote in a statement. “We are seeing that the new policies and training implemented as part of the reform process are keeping both officers and the community safe.  We ask a lot of officers in these very challenging situations.  As we saw in the past, many interactions with people in crisis resulted in force being used, and that clearly is changing.  The SPD data demonstrates officers are applying best practices from across the nation and that is making a difference.  Trained and empowered police officers using discretion and de-escalation has led to positive results, including a growing number of referrals for mental health and substance abuse services."

The data reflects that officers are arresting fewer people in crisis, many of whom are mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead, officers are often opting to refer them to services that can help address to root cause of their behavior.

Of all contacts during the three-month period included in the report, 1,594 individuals were referred to community services, 272 were voluntary committed to local hospitals, and 772 were involuntary committed.

This is the first time that SPD has tracked such specific data related to contacts with those in crisis. While measuring real improvement is difficult without a similar data set for comparison, Chief Kathleen O’Toole is encouraged by the numbers.

“These results are remarkable,” Chief O’Toole said in a statement. “They underscore the fact that policing is a service that goes well beyond law enforcement. I’m incredibly proud of SPD officers for handling these complicated situations so effectively and with such minimal force.”