Police seek to fill navigator position

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 11/29/23

It’s a scenario that a number of Port Townsend residents wonder about.

If they encounter a person on the street who appears to be in crisis — perhaps homeless, possibly mentally ill, …

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Police seek to fill navigator position


It’s a scenario that a number of Port Townsend residents wonder about.

If they encounter a person on the street who appears to be in crisis — perhaps homeless, possibly mentally ill, or maybe even suffering from substance abuse — they wonder who they should contact, and what sort of response that person might be met with.

Until roughly the end of last year, one of the personnel that the Port Townsend Police Department could respond with was their navigator, Judson “Jud” Haynes, hired in 2019.

But Port Townsend Police Chief Thomas Olson explained that his department lost Haynes to further career development, as Haynes has pursued further training and experience, to continue his work in the counseling field.

“We would have loved for Jud to stay, but he was committed to getting his Ph.D.,” Olson said.

Olson noted that the Port Townsend Police Department has advertised to fill the position, which is grant-funded, and he expects to conduct interviews in the near-term, with an eye toward hiring a new navigator perhaps as soon as February.

Although members of the public have contacted the Port Townsend Police seeking to schedule appointments with their navigator, Olson emphasized that the navigator’s services are primarily intended for “active, ongoing incidents, to respond to people in crisis.”

The Port Townsend Police navigator is so-named because the role involves helping such people navigate the resources in the community that are available to them, and the navigator needs to have a medical background, with certifications in mental health and substance abuse issues.

Olson emphasized that his police officers are well-trained in such issues, and well-aware of the community resources available, but the navigator not only has more direct access to those resources, but can make diagnoses that non-certified personnel cannot.

“Just to clear up any potential misconceptions, we never send the navigator into an incident where there’s still an active threat,” Olson said. “Our police officers go in first, to do what they need to do, to ensure the environment is safe and secure. Even if it’s a suicidal person, the navigator is not involved until officers have ensured the person does not possess a weapon or pose a threat to themselves or others.”

The navigator does possess the credentials to commit a person in crisis to care at a hospital.

The navigator position is one of many that Olson has been faced with filling over the course of his tenure as Port Townsend’s police chief, having hired close to a dozen officers, after interviewing nearly 50 candidates, and he anticipates the department should be only one position away from being fully staffed by next summer.

Olson reiterated that police officers have received progressively increasing amounts of training in responding to people in crisis, and mental health issues, in recent years, between the implementation of annual training sessions and 40-hour courses at the police academy.

Still, Olson sees the navigator as simply being better equipped to connect those people in crisis to whatever resources they need, which is why the Port Townsend Police Department has occasionally leaned on the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to utilize its navigator, for whom the police department is a “co-partner” in funding.

“The navigator can follow up with those people in crisis, and help ensure the police department doesn’t abandon contact with them,” Olson said. “At the same time, we would never purposefully put them in danger, and they come equipped to the scene with a ballistic vest for their protection.”

Olson estimated the navigator position receives a roughly $60,000 annual salary, drawn from a two-year grant, and he’s eager to continue a program that he acknowledged has “a huge buy-in and degree of support from the community.”