Olympia, WA

Crisis Response Unit (CRU) – Olympia, WA

MARCH 15, 2022

Olympia, WA’s Crisis Response Unit (CRU) is a community responder unit within the Olympia Police Department (PD) that provides free, confidential, and voluntary crisis response assistance. CRU offers a number of services, including crisis counseling, conflict resolution and mediation, harm reduction, first aid and non-emergency medical care, and referrals to additional support services. CRU has a layered approach to crisis response; because the program is often focused on immediate response and care, it will often refer individuals who have frequent contact with the police to a Familiar Faces program. This program, operated by Olympia PD and staffed with outreach specialists, works towards lasting stability to those in constant crisis.

The following information outlines CRU’s efforts since it began; it follows the sections of the toolkit. Readers can connect to other parts of the toolkit by clicking the headers for more details.

Olympia, WA van and officers

Credit: Margo Morales 


Community Engagement and Collaboration

  • CRU members spend much of their time building relationships with community members and organizations to establish meaningful connections and better understand their needs.
  • CRU conducted an initial survey, as well as 6-month and 18-month check-ins, with local law enforcement officials to gain their perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the program, and how they believe CRU could be improved.

Call Triaging

  • The Thurston County 911 Communications Center (TCOMM 911) identifies and shares all potential CRU-eligible calls coming through 911 or Olympia’s non-emergency line over a shared police radio frequency. CRU teams independently identify which calls are appropriate for their response.
  • Law enforcement officers and members of the fire department can also refer calls to CRU if they determine that a behavioral health response is suitable.
  • CRU averages around 500-600 contacts per quarter and have been responding to calls since April 1, 2019.

Program Staffing

  • CRU is housed within the Olympia Police Department and is currently staffed by four crisis response specialists and two crisis response lead workers. Originally, Olympia PD contracted with a local behavioral health provider to staff the units, however, these team members were eventually hired as city employees. Read more about CRU staffing model in their Q&A with the CSG Justice Center here.
  • Using a staff of two outreach specialists, Olympia PD also operates a Familiar Faces program that assists residents who have repeated contact with the police department.
  • As funding has increased, CRU plans to hire five additional specialists as well as partner with a local hospital to hire a registered nurse to assist with non-acute medical care.

Use of Data to Inform Decision Making

  • CRU uses the Collector App to support clients; it has also been helpful in reporting out to the community the work that is occurring. For more information, see the Case Study on CRU and Familiar Faces conducted and published by the Vera Institute of Justice.

Safety and Wellness

  • In most cases, CRU team members will work in pairs, but for simple calls such as helping someone who needs a ride to services, they may just have a single team member address the call.
  • Staff receive de-escalation, trauma-informed response, motivational interviewing, crisis intervention team, and anger management training. They have also been trained in radio procedures and what to expect when working with law enforcement in the field.
  • Out of 3,108 calls since the program’s inception, 0 staff injuries were reported as caused by clients, and only two calls for police backup were required due to safety concerns.

Financial Sustainability

  • Olympia’s CRU team is funded by revenue generated from the Public Safety Levy, an increase in property taxes approved by voters in November 2017 to support public safety programming. The levy allocated $110,100 in startup costs and $497,000 in annual costs.
  • From 2018 through 2020, Familiar Faces was funded in part by a Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) grant, with contributions from the city. In July of 2021, Olympia absorbed the original Familiar Faces Program as an OPD program and rehired the original staff.
  • The 2022 budget for CRU and Familiar Faces is approximately $2 million.

Legislative Strategies

  • A public safety levy (Ordinance No. 7091) was passed by the Olympia City Council on July 18, 2017. It was approved by voters in November 2017, generating revenue from an increase in property taxes to support public safety programming, including the CRU.