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Report: Nearly 80% of 911 calls made to Seattle police in 2017-19 were for noncriminal events

By Alec Regimbal , SeattlePI

| Updated
A new report found that nearly 80% of calls made to Seattle police between 2017 and 2019 didn't involve any criminal activity. 

A new report found that nearly 80% of calls made to Seattle police between 2017 and 2019 didn't involve any criminal activity.

David Ryder/Getty Images

Nearly 80% of 911 calls made to the Seattle Police Department between 2017 and 2019 were for “non-criminal events,” according to an agency hired by the city to conduct an analysis of such calls.

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Of the 1.2 million calls made to Seattle police during that time, only 6% involved felony activity, the agency said in its analysis . Just over 14% of calls involved misdemeanor activity.

The agency, the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, was hired in 2020 to analyze calls to Seattle police as part of then-Mayor Jenny Durkan’s executive order aimed at reimagining policing in the city. That order, issued in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, sought to understand how alternatives to policing would work in Seattle.

The point of analyzing police calls is to figure out just how often police are actually needed when 911 is called.

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Activists argue that most work can be done by someone other than an armed officer, who they say can escalate a situation. In turn, they say trained professionals should respond to calls alone or with an officer, as long as the officer keeps their distance.

The agency’s report appears to validate the activists’ argument, at least in Seattle.

The most common 911 call Seattle police received between 2017 and 2019 was for “premise checks” — a call in which an officer checks a specific area to make sure everything is OK. The department received 112,265 premise check calls during that time.

The second, third and fourth most common calls were for unspecified disturbances, a suspicious person and traffic violations, respectively. Seattle police received 388,929 calls for those types of incidents combined between 2017 and 2019.

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Based on their findings, analysts with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform created a four-tier structure they recommend Seattle police implement:

  • The first tier, which applies to noncriminal activity, calls for the response of a trained professional only.

  • The second tier, which applies to misdemeanor activity in which an arrest is unlikely, calls for the response of a trained professional and officer. The professional would arrive first and call off the officer if they determine the officer isn’t needed.

  • The third tier, which applies to felony activity in which an arrest is likely, also calls for the response of a trained professional and officer. However, the officer would arrive first to determine if they’re needed. If they decide they’re not, they will let the professional take over.

  • The fourth tier, which applies to felony activity in which an arrest is very likely, calls for an officer to respond alone.

The agency recommends that Seattle police assign each call type to one of these four tiers and respond to 911 calls accordingly. However, whether Seattle’s current mayor, Bruce Harrell, will implement these recommendations is unclear. On the campaign trail, Harrell said he understood the need for alternatives to policing but also pledged to augment the department’s presence within the city.

Alec Regimbal is a politics reporter at SFGATE. He graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A Washington State native, Alec previously wrote for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also spent two years as a political aide in the Washington State Legislature.