Report: Crime down in Port Townsend in 2023

New hires added to city department

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Police Department is making progress on adding new officers to its ranks, but it’s still struggling to fill all its needed positions.

Speaking to the Port Townsend City Council on Feb. 12, Police Chief Thomas Olson and Deputy Chief Jeff Thaxton said the department has been able to add several officers to its ranks — Thaxton included — but positions such as police navigator and school resource officer remain vacant.

The department currently has 10 officers with an additional four still in training, Olson told the council.

“That number goes from 10 to 14, hopefully by April,” Olson said. “We do still have a couple of positions to fill.”

Several candidates have interviewed for the navigator position, but none have been qualified, Olson said. Police navigators are behavioral health specialists who accompany officers on certain calls related to mental health or social service issues.

The department has been working with the Port Townsend School District and its board of directors to find a school resource officer, Olson said.

He added that state legislation has recently added certain requirements for what school officers can and can’t do, and that is complicating the hiring process.

Olson said the school board wants to be involved with selecting a resource officer — a request he supports — and that he hopes a candidate will be identified by April.

Overall, crime in 2023 was down even as calls for service were up, Thaxton said. The majority of calls the department receives are for traffic, and while the department increased the number of traffic stops made, most of them ended with a warning and not a ticket or an arrest.

The department made 1,074 traffic stops last year — up from 765 in 2022 — but only 191 resulted in some kind of citation. The number of DUI arrests increased from nine in 2022 to 21 in 2023, and criminal traffic citations — someone driving with a suspended license or other infraction — went from 12 to 22 over the past two years.

“If you combine all of those — tickets, DUIs and criminal traffic — you’re looking at 17.7 percent total of the traffic stops,” Thaxton said. “So the rest are warnings.”

Thaxton attributed part of the increase in traffic stops and arrests to the department having more officers on the streets.

The number of reportable traffic collisions — more than $1,000 worth of damage — was down 25 percent from 110 in 2022 to 82 in 2023, while total collision-related calls were up 24 percent, from 152 in 2022 to 189 in 2023.

Thaxton said the No. 1 spot for collisions in the city is the intersection of West Sims Way and Haines Place by Safeway. Data from the Washington State Patrol shows most of the city’s collisions occur on Sims Way.

Use-of-force incidents by the department were up, but Olson attributed part of that increase to legislative changes requiring departments to report additional kinds of contact, including wrist holds and other restraining measures.

“Any time we go hands-on now, we document that,” Olson said.

The number of use-of-force incidents increased from 16 in 2022 to 39 in 2023, which included seven injuries to suspects and two injuries to officers. Olson said all the injuries sustained were minor, and that even complaints of pain must be recorded as an injury.

The department is in the process of acquiring two new vehicles, but the department’s outfitter is highly backlogged due to short staffing. Olson said he hopes to get those vehicles by the end of the month.

“Crime is down, community policing missions are up, the department continues to grow, and we are being more proactive and we’re getting the support from our community,” Olson said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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