Crisis-flagged Misdemeanors in Seattle: Arrests, Referrals, Charges, and Case Dispositions

Misdemeanor cases represent the majority of the cases processed through the criminal justice system. Misdemeanor offenses often involve individuals experiencing mental health conditions, drug and alcohol addiction, severe poverty, deprivation, and/or homelessness. These conditions can manifest in behavioral crisis events that come to the attention to law enforcement in the form of lower-level misdemeanor crimes. Little is known about how individuals arrested for misdemeanor crimes who are in behavioral crisis are processed through the criminal justice system. Over the past several decades, law enforcement agencies have established and improved crisis intervention policies and data collection approaches to better identify and respond to incidents involving individuals in various forms of behavioral crisis including individuals suffering from mental illness, substance use disorders, and or other forms of diminished capacity and/or emotional distress. In 2015, the Seattle Police Department implemented a Crisis Intervention Policy that employed a crisis template enabling systematic identification of all incidents flagged by law enforcement as “behavioral crisis” incidents. This study employs a quasi-experimental design to examine misdemeanor arrests, charges, referrals, and case dispositions of behavioral crisis-flagged incidents to better understand how individuals who are experiencing behavioral crisis are processed through the misdemeanor justice system.A sample of 505 cases of behavioral-crisis flagged incidents in Seattle from 2014-2018 are compared with a matched random sample of 1053 non-crisis cases examining similarities and differences in arrest, referral, charges, and case disposition.