Grant will fund local law enforcement mental health navigator

A grant will allow the Hoquiam, Aberdeen and Cosmopolis police departments to hire a behavioral health navigator to provide in-the-field referrals for subjects of emergency calls with mental health issues.

The Hoquiam Police Department drafted the grant request to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC); the just over $86,000 award was announced earlier this week.

A total of 14 grants were awarded to help law enforcement agencies expand and/or implement mental health field response capabilities across the state and are part of an existing program approved and funded by the Washington Legislature, along with additional funding provided by the Washington Health Care Authority.

“The intent (of the grant) was to integrate mental health professionals with law enforcement in the field,” said Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers. “We wanted to inboard a police employee into the department to coordinate with the resources that are here.”

The current trend in law enforcement reform is to take law enforcement out of the mental health response field. By adding a navigator, local police responding to behavioral health related calls will have an on-staff individual to take on the responsibility of lining up the subject with limited locally-available treatment and other services.

The navigator is not a counselor or mental health provider, rather someone who “knows how the (local mental health) system works and where the resources are, and connects people with those resources,” said Myers.

Myers said the grant will pay for one year’s salary and benefits for the navigator position, and it appears if successful the position could qualify for a second year of funding. The Hoquiam, Aberdeen and Cosmopolis police departments will provide about $40,000 in funds for other expenses related to the position.

Myers is hopeful for a two-year position that proves effective and sustainable that could “maybe expand into other areas of the county to help in the transition of handling social issues the police are involved in and navigate (subjects) into social services.”