This year’s recipient of the Dispute Resolution Center’s (DRC) Evan Ferber Peacemaker Award is an Olympia Police Department (OPD) civilian staff person, Outreach Services Coordinator Anne Larsen. The center’s Board of Directors selected Larsen for the award to honor the impact she has had on the South Sound community in her work for the Olympia Police Department and celebrate her continued efforts in her new role at the state and national level.
According to their public pronouncement: Anne perfectly embodies the purposes of the award, demonstrating a commitment to peacemaking and community service through strengthening civil discourse and harmony.
The award, presented on Sunday, May 7, 2023, was based on her job working from 2018 through January 2022 with and for vulnerable people in crisis on the streets. She led intervention teams who helped create a more diversified response capability by the Olympia Police Department. Initially hired to create the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), Larsen also wrote a successful grant application to the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs and created the Familiar Faces (FF) program.
These programs focus on community members in crisis due to poverty, trauma, mental health issues, or substance use disorders, with the goal of connecting clients to housing, medical care, treatment, and their families.
Over the course of four years, Larsen designed, staffed, and ran both the Crisis Response Unit and the Familiar Faces program. She, her staff, and other community providers coordinated to earn the trust of police officers for their referrals and partnership.
The City of Olympia and the Olympia Police Department are ahead of the curve with a diverse toolkit for approaching community issues. Former Police Chief Ronnie Roberts worked on this issue and, with the Public Safety Levee passed in 2015, the police force tapped into sympathetic alternatives to defusing crises. They especially focused on improving their approach to people with substance abuse and mental health-related crises, using social and medical services. An important step in the right direction included hiring Anne Larsen.
Read here for an article highlighting the civilian crisis responders in Olympia.
A Minnesota native, Larsen lives in rural Thurston County and holds a BA in Public Administration and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from The Evergreen State College. Before working for the police department, she worked for the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s office championing alternatives to the criminal justice system and supporting treatment courts.
Larsen received national recognition for her work. Subsequently, she received inquiries from states nationwide to find out “how she did it,” particularly after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. A year later, the OPD expanded the CRU and FF. At that time, only two other locales nationwide had similar programs, Denver, Colorado with Denver Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), and Eugene, Oregon with the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS).
Larsen now works as a Project Manager, for the Council of State Governments Justice Center. She’s developing training tools to spread her knowledge and inspiration to other communities around the county and advocating and hiring those with lived experiences with incarceration and behavioral health. Beyond her professional work, you will also find her running with participants of Thurston County Veteran's Court and Mental Health Court, where 12 court participants will run/walk in the Capital City Marathon and 5-Mile events this year with Larsen.
Using a team approach, the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) brings social workers and other unarmed civilian-first responders to defuse situations involving individuals in crisis. Partnering with the police, medical, and social services, the staff members help identify a person’s specific needs and provide services including crisis counseling, conflict resolution, housing referral assistance, substance abuse referral, and transportation services to help make it all happen. They operate 360 days per year and annually serve around 2,400 community contacts.
The Familiar Faces program fills another gap, using civilian staff to help identify and assist persons with complex health and behavioral problems, which have resulted in frequent contact with the Olympia Police Department's Walking Patrol. The FF staff members are peers of the people they help as they have personal backgrounds of successful coping with: homelessness, trauma, substance abuse, or mental illness. (Personal in that either they or family members have overcome such obstacles.) The FF staff persistently contacts individuals referred to the program to encourage them to get assistance and resources. Also, they literally assist them on their journey, another fact that makes the program stand out from many others.
The award Larsen received is a program of the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County which, since its founding in 1991, has helped more than 200,000 people in Thurston and South Mason counties. I venture to say that there are few gifts greater than the gift of helping someone work through a serious conflict. This is the focus of the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County and 20 other similar groups statewide, plus more throughout the USA and in other countries. They help people repair relationships, resolve disagreements, and communicate respectfully. Whether it is with families negotiating parenting plans, assisting in landlord-tenant disputes, or in any number of other dispute types, they serve the community and save money for the local courts and taxpayers. And they look beyond their own volunteers to recognize others who work toward the same goal.
Each year the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County recognizes one person or team with the Evan Ferber Peacemaker Leadership Award. The award was established in 2010 by the DRC Board of Directors in the name of their local founder. Residents of Thurston and South Mason Counties, are invited to submit year-round nominations for this award.
The 2023 award was presented at an event, “A Celebration of Peacemakers” held on Sunday, May 7, 2023 at the Lacey Community Center. This year, the event was doubly special as it was the DRC’s first large indoor, in-person gathering since 2019, before the COVID pandemic. Past award recipients were also honored, and ten former honorees, or family representatives, attended.
2011 - Evan Ferber
2012 - Kathy Baros-Friedt
2013 - Betty Utter
2014 - Rev. Arthur Vaeni
2015 - Jill Severn
2016 - Kerensa Mabwa, Matt Grant & Chief Ronnie Roberts
2017 - Glen Anderson
2018 - Teal Russell & Katherine Trahan
2019 - Rev. Carol McKinley
2020 - Rabbi Seth Goldstein
2021 - Hon. Mary Fairhurst* & Shelly Willis
2022 - Jose Gutierrez Jr.*
Shirley Stirling, of Lacey, writes about good things people in Thurston County are doing. If you’d like to nominate someone to be profiled, contact her at shirley@theJOLTnews.com or comment below.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here