Poulsbo OKs grant for police-led behavioral health response

The Poulsbo City Council approved a grant Wednesday that will allow the city to expand the scope of police-led behavioral health response in North Kitsap through the police navigator and a peer support member within the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe.

The council also talked about COVID concerns, students being back in school, and the possibility of creating a Race Equity Advisory Committee, among other topics.

Council documents say the city has been awarded a Mental Health Field Response Team grant of $82,640 through the state Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“One position would be with (PGST) and that would be the after-hours success coach that would give our officers who are trying to be in compliance with the Blake decision when we encounter subjects with controlled substances,” Poulsbo Police Chief Ron Harding said. “The new requirement is that we refer those people to services for the first two contacts we have. The discussion we’ve engaged in with service providers in the county resulted in (PGST) stepping up to say that they would supply a success coach that would at least give us the opportunity for officers to make a phone call with the person they were dealing with…so we can hand that person off to a warm contact instead of just handing them a piece of paper.”

During opening comments of the meeting, Councilmember Britt Livdahl brought up that the Kitsap Public Health District recently declared racism a public health crisis and that the city needs to start a REAC. Poulsbo and Port Orchard are the only cities in Kitsap County that have not created one. “It’s time to do that,” Livdahl said.

Councilmember Connie Lord said, “I’m open to that, and I’m waiting to see how this is going to evolve.” Councilmember Ed Stern mentioned inviting other Kitsap jurisdictions that do have such a committee to share their experience with the council.

“We can look at this and weigh the opportunities and risks. We don’t have to do what others have; we can learn from what others have. It certainly behooves us to keep looking at it and take positive steps,” he said.

Mayor Becky Erickson talked about how exciting it is to see students at school this year, but mentioned there have been some traffic concerns, especially at Vinland Elementary. She said Poulsbo police were helping to mitigate traffic in that area.

“The kids are happy, and the parents are happy,” she said. “It is good to have them back in school, and it makes some feeling of normality return.”

Although students are back in school, COVID rates locally are as high as they’ve ever been since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The KPHD board, which Erickson is a member of, recently met, and she said the “news is not good.”

“The case counts and level of hospitalizations are as high as they’ve ever been since the pandemic started,” Erickson said. “Please, everyone mask up when you’re in public places. Be careful. If you are not vaccinated, please get vaccinated.”

Also at the meeting, the council appointed Douglass Newell to the Planning Commission, replacing Tim Morgan who resigned. His term ends Dec. 31, 2024. Newell is the assistant superintendent, finance and support for Central Kitsap School District. In his application, he stated he’s been involved with CKSD facility construction, land use planning and a Capital Facilities plan.

“He looks like a very qualified person,” Councilmember Jeff McGinty said. “It’s great that people like that are willing to volunteer.”