Reimagining crisis response: New investments enhance community safety

New funding boosts Burien’s collaborative approach to public safety.

The Burien City Council approved a $450,000 boost to Burien’s collaborative approach to public safety. The new funding pays for a business improvement area (BIA) outreach care coordinator, a storefront resource center in downtown Burien, and a community response team.

BIA Outreach Care Coordinator: The BIA outreach care coordinator will be a social worker who will focus on helping connect community members to mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and housing. They will work with other service providers, businesses, first responders, and city staff and will focus on downtown Burien.

Storefront Resource Center: Discover Burien, a local nonprofit that supports the Burien business community, is donating a portion of their office space on 152nd St to host a storefront resource center staffed by a community-focused police officer. The resource center will be placed where businesses and community members can ask questions and easily get in touch with police officers when problems arise. Storefront resource centers are based on a community policing model which, in neighborhoods where they’ve been built, has resulted in both real and perceived increases in community safety. This investment pays for a full-time storefront resource officer.

Community Response Team: King County Fire District #2 and the City are forming a Community Response Team, comprised of a mental health professional who can accompany emergency medical responders (EMS) to help people experiencing a crisis. This new team is based on a “co-responder” model, which has shown promising results in other communities by improving how first responders engage with people who may be experiencing a behavioral health crisis or who have other concerns that pose a potential risk to themselves or others. In communities where a co-responder model is in place, it has helped reduce the total number of emergency calls. This team will work out of the Burien fire station with supervision from a mental health organization.

These new programs complement the City’s existing partnerships, including outreach and service programs, that take a case management approach to helping people find housing and other essential services.

“Police often have limited response options beyond taking people to jail or a hospital,” said Chief Ted Boe, Burien Police Department. “Without the necessary systems to remedy the underlying causes of these frequently co-occurring issues, people experiencing homelessness often cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. Too often, communities have limited options to support a person who is experiencing homelessness and to stabilize someone in crisis.”

These investments may help reduce the number of 911 calls, freeing up emergency service response for the rest of the community.

“We will hear an individual has overdosed five times. But it’s been five different crews who have seen that person,” said Chief Mike Marrs, King County Fire District #2. “Now, with the Community Response Team, we can capture that name and send out, instead of just a 911 response, a follow up. We need that referral model so that we can better understand why we may be seeing the same person over and over again.”

The new programs will also help people who may be housed, but have other medical, social, or behavioral health concerns that place them in frequent crisis situations. The BIA outreach care coordinator and storefront resource center will be open during the day and the Community Response Team staff will operate during four ten-hour shifts.

“One of the greatest gaps we are seeing, even with our current providers, is this level of expertise to be able to diagnose in the field and to be able to have access to the crisis response team that deploys out of King County,” said Colleen Brandt-Schluter, Human Services Manager for the City of Burien. “By having our own mental health professional who has direct connection to crisis solutions centers and can do some of that field work, we have a much better chance of getting people the help they need.”

These new programs help address concerns raised by community members and businesses, who have been calling for more focused attention on public safety in the downtown area. The investments will also help build trust between community and police. This more holistic approach is something many community members have called for during community conversations and in recent surveys.

The new programs are paid for by savings from un-filled positions in the police department, $160,000 funding from an EMS levy passed by voters in 2019, and money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. King County’s Local Services may be able to partially support the community response team, which will also serve the White Center area.

The storefront resource center is scheduled to open this fall. The BIA outreach care coordinator will be hired by this fall as well. The community response team is scheduled to launch next January.

Former Communications & Public Engagement Manager at 
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