Creswell, Public Safety & Health

Riding shotgun with the sergeant

Chronicle Editor Erin Tierney and LCSO Sergeant Scott Denham hang out for the day while patrolling in Creswell.

Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series about policing in The Friendly City.

Did you know that Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) offers ride-alongs to civilians? It’s an in-depth experience where residents can gain a new perspective of their city, through the eyes of law enforcement. Last week, I rode shotgun with Creswell’s Sergeant Scott Denham.
This is Denham’s 24th year in law enforcement, his 20th year with LCSO and his fifth year in Creswell. Needless to say, he’s seen it all.
Anyone who knows Creswell knows it’s got its blessings and its blemishes. Sergeant Denham’s got a mind like a roadmap and a brain like a filing cabinet, where he keeps tabs on the nuisance properties and troublemakers that come with any territory.
Perhaps this skill comes with patrolling a small city for years, but Denham has developed relationships with many citizens, and he’s learned more about them than just their rap sheets. Denham knows the mannerisms and tendencies of many in town – especially those who have fallen through the cracks of society.

Sgt. Denham knows every outplaced person’s name and background, having built a repertoire of understanding and authority with the outliers. And it may surprise you to know that overall, Sgt. Denham says that Creswell doesn’t have a transient population problem. Actually, most are homegrown.
”The transients in Creswell are mostly from Creswell,” Denham said. Despite the outcry that Creswell receives many blow-ins from neighboring cities and communities, the majority of Creswell’s transient population actually grew up here, went to school and had friends and family here, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office always directs transients to warming shelters and other resources, he said. Police always offer rides to shelters or other establishments, but more often than not, the people refuse help. Denham said many transients have a hard time following the rules and guidelines that are set in place at shelters, such as not being allowed to drink alcohol or bring pets. Ultimately, most choose not to go, and police cannot force them to seek help.
It’s a sad situation, all around, Denham said. He knows who they are and he keeps a watchful eye, but cannot do much about their presence if they’re not doing anything wrong.
”They’re not doing anything wrong by simply being here,” he said. But if they act up, it won’t be long before Denham pays them a visit.
Still, the few outliers we drove past while patrolling the town offered goofy waves and smiles to Denham; and of course, Denham waves back.

According to police data provided by Sgt. Denham, 131 calls and 70 cases were made regarding Offense Against State (drugs, warrants) in 2017. Though some of the calls may prove unfounded, those are a lot of drug reports to come out of a small town.
The drug of choice in Creswell? Meth, Denham said.
”It depends on the (user’s) primary goal, what they want to feel,” Denham said. ”Meth is easier and cheaper and in abundance in the county.” He said people who abuse painkillers often fall prey to meth, as it has the same pain-numbing properties while also acting as a stimulant.
Other than that, Denham said there’s a handful of heroin users.
On a separate note, Sgt. Denham said LSCO has been cracking down on underage marijuana usage in town. The reports will help the City gain momentum to implement a Creswell Peer Court. He said he hasn’t recognized an increase in teen marijuana users since its statewide legalization, though 16 out of 60 dispensaries in Oregon reportedly have been nabbed for selling marijuana to underage children.

Denham said that his promotion to fulltime sheriff in Creswell in July 2017 has given him the opportunity to do for more community outreach through programs, such as ALICE training and the Every 15 Minutes program.
The name ”Every 15 Minutes,” comes from the fact that every 15 minutes, someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related automobile accident. The program encourages students to consider the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving. Lane County has one of the highest automobile fatality rates of the 26 counties in Oregon, and it is educational programs like this that could help reduce that number.
One of our stops during my ride-along was at Creswell High School, where Denham and retired LCSO Sheriff Kevin Woodworth met with CHS Principal Adam Watkins and students who plan to be part of the Every 15 Minutes program, slated for March for Creswell students.
This two-day program is not meant to be a scare tactic, Denham said, but is meant to get teens to truly understand how dangerous distracted and drunk driving is.
The bone-chilling experience has many working parts, including a ”grim reaper” that takes students out of class, one by one, every 15 minutes; student-written obituaries read aloud by a police officer to classmates; letters sent home to families; and a real car accident simulation. In this accident, one Creswell student ”dies,” one is actually transported by Life Flight and one is transported by ambulance to the hospital for ”injuries” sustained in this realistic crash.
Sgt. Denham hopes this message will sink in to students, especially with prom season on the horizon.
Another stop Sgt. Denham and I made was to a Eugene hotel, where Denham is organizing ALICE training. ALICE – which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate – involves a set of proactive strategies used to train citizens on what to do in the event of an active shooter situation.
Sergeant Denham recently conducted ALICE training for interested persons at Creswell Presbyterian Church, creating a simulation of what an armed intruder situation would look like at that venue and training participants to act accordingly.
Denham also has his hand in the Creswell Bike Rodeo, where kids learn safety tips for riding their bikes and receive bicycle safety checks. He plans for a more developed program this year, and wants to get the ball rolling on things like Coffee with a Cop and organizing an official Neighborhood Watch.
Being able to be involved in the community in this capacity with programs such as these, Denham said, is the silver lining to a stressful career.
In Part Two of ”Riding Shotgun with the Sergeant,” in next week’s edition, The Chronicle will continue its observance of a day-in-the-life of a police officer in Creswell, with insight on Creswell’s speeding and traffic violations situation, sex crimes and lack of 24-hour coverage.



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