Olympia Police Department's outreach services present program updates

More treatment beds are needed


At the Community Livability and Public Safety Committee meeting on Wednesday, the Olympia Police Department presented its outreach services programs, which assist people experiencing crises.

Olympia Police Deputy Chief Shelby Parker said the department's outreach services programs—the Crisis Response Unit, Familiar Faces, and Designated Crisis Responder — aim to effectively de-escalate crises and divert them from the criminal justice system. The programs offer immediate assistance to those in crisis by connecting them with mental health and social services resources.

Crisis Response Unit (CRU)

CRU consists of 12 non-commissioned, non-armed first responders who serve as an alternative response that reduces calls to police officers and connects people to available resources.

According to Parker, the CRU responded to calls independently 1,837 times, with law enforcement as backup on 467 occasions. Additionally, the unit transported community members in crisis 211 times, resulting in 2,301 times responding to calls for service.

Parker added that in 2023, the CRU responded to 3,100 calls for service. This number is projected to increase 32% this year.

"If our community continues to utilize CRU at the same rate through the remainder of the year,” Parker said, “this will result in responding to approximately 4,602 calls for service in 2024."

Parker provided additional data on the downtown Walking CRU. She noted the team had responded to 934 calls for service so far in 2024. The deputy police chief emphasized that this number was not included in the reported calls.

She said highlighting the walking team's separate call volume was important because it demonstrated their high level of activity downtown. The data showed the impact of having dedicated CRU members accessible full-time in the downtown core.

Familiar Faces

Outreach Services coordinator Ren Emerson-Beckman explained the Familiar Faces program uses peer navigators who have personal experience with homelessness, substance use disorder, incarceration, and other challenges.

The Crisis Response Unit, police officers, and other organizations refer community members to Familiar Faces. The peer navigators help clients access resources to meet their basic needs, such as housing, healthcare, social support, and legal assistance.

Emerson-Beckman noted the program is innovative because it is housed within a police department. This has fostered positive relationships between officers and peer navigators. Familiar Faces collaborates with other service providers to ensure participants receive long-term support.

Emerson-Beckman said that housing, medical, social support, and legal support are the top four needs of the Familiar Faces clients this year.

Designated Crisis Responder

According to Parker, a Designated Crisis Responder (DCR) is a mental health professional who can involuntarily detain someone for up to 72 hours for evaluation if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others due to a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

Parker informed that the OPD entered a contract with Olympia Health and Recovery Services to have a dedicated DCR based at the police department.

The DCR receives referrals from police, the CRU, medical providers, and family/friends. They conduct interviews and investigations to determine the appropriate action, such as arranging transportation to an evaluation and treatment center.

From Jan. 1 to June 21, 2024, 21 detentions were recorded.

Parker outlined the OPD's plans to strengthen outreach services further in 2025. She said the OPD will focus on providing additional staff training on trauma-informed care.

The department also aims to hire a new outreach specialist to expand its capacity to work with more community members in crisis.

Parker added the police department will collaborate with the Olympia Fire Department on the launch of their OFD's  Community Assistance Referral & Education Services (CARES) program to ensure coordinated crisis response across agencies.

Parker advocates for more mental health facilities in the region to address ongoing capacity issues and help transition more individuals from crisis to wellness.

She also emphasized the need for more DCRs but said the even bigger need is for more mental health facilities and treatment beds.

"So if we had an additional DCR on staff, that would be great. It will give us more coverage around the clock, it will give us more availability to community members in Olympia. However, we would still have the limitations of where they go. That number of 21 would increase if our DCR knew that there was a guaranteed place where folks could go and move toward wellness. We just don't have those beds," Parker told the committee.


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