National Night Out: A different side of policing

BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE – Springfield Police officer J. Garcia-Cash poses with a group of neighborhood kiddos. The kids were given frisbees, water, crayons and drawings – all SPD-themed at the National Night Out event.

The sun was shining, kids were smiling, and a multitude of officers attended with no shortage of enthusiasm. 

Last Tuesday, Lane County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement gathered at Harry Holt Park in Creswell for the National Night Out, an annual event for the community to interact with law enforcement in a more personal way. 

In Springfield, the Springfield Police Department and Springfield Neighborhood Watch visited neighborhood get-togethers across town to celebrate. 

“National Night Out is celebrated throughout our nation,” said Steffanie Peters, a member of the Springfield Neighborhood Watch Board. “It is a time to come out of our homes and meet with our neighbors and talk about how we can make our neighborhoods safer for our families to live in.” 

The nation-wide program encourages families, community groups and local law enforcement to interact and build positive relationships. 

“Events like these are really important,” Lily Wick, Community Outreach Coordinator for Springfield Police Department said. “We want to give people an opportunity to talk to us in a more casual setting. It’s just a really good opportunity to foster good relationships with community members and initiate that positive presence.” 

In Creswell, among the splashes from the dunk tank, giddy screams and running feet of children, there was no way to ignore the two majestic dogs stationed at the corner of the lawn. 

BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLE – Lane County Sheriff’s Office K-9s were a huge draw at Creswell’s National Night Out in Holt Park last week. K-9 handler Christopher Gardner, left, sics Jasper on another deputy during a demonstration.

Jasper and Briar, two long-haired German Shepherd brothers, accompanied members of Lane County’s Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Program (SAR).

SAR dogs are trained to track human scent and are asked to find missing items or missing people depending on the needs of the Sheriff’s Office. The program is made up of volunteers – 315 in total – with a variety of teams they serve on such as dive team, radio team, mountain rescue, ground team and the youth special group for ages 14-18.

Search & Rescue volunteer Randy Huntoon spoke to what it’s like to work with the dogs and serve the community.  

“It’s really rewarding- both these dogs have been involved in some binds of ours,” he said. 

He then told a story of a grueling search. Him and his team member Jeremy Adams, went out with Jasper and Briar to search for a missing person in the Hills Creeks area who had been missing for almost three days. Jasper led them to the subject when he picked up on a scent by the water.

BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLE – Lane County Sheriff’s Office K-9s were a huge draw at Creswell’s National Night Out in Holt Park last week. At left, Sarah Zumwalt, search and rescue member, poses with her pup.

Adams and Huntoon found the person in a large gorge by the river, at least 80 or more feet down below. The terrain was too rough to get him out safely. The volunteers called the ground team out, who got to the subject a few hours later from the other side of the gorge. Temperatures were down to 30 degrees that evening; the ground team stayed the night with him, keeping him warm until the Coast Guard flew over and lifted him out.  

“It’s pretty cool when you go out and you find somebody that probably wouldn’t have survived the night,” Huntoon said.

This was Todd May’s first National Night Out in Creswell in his new role as Creswell’s sergeant, and was pleased to see all the excitement around the event. 

“Our county has some of the most dedicated and involved search-and-rescue members – whether it’s mountain rescue, divers, posse, cadaver dogs, ground search-and-rescue – they are the heroes to me,” May said. 

Lane County’s K-9 Program also attended the event to fundraise. Lane County has two fully-trained dogs, and are looking to add a third. It costs about $15,000 to get a dog, plus funds for training. 

“It takes a lot of hard work and commitment,” said Delisa Garnder, K-9 program volunteer and wife of K-9 handler Christopher Gardner, former Creswell deputy. 

To become certified, dogs take a five week course with 240 hours of training in total. After certification, handlers have to train them for a minimum 16 hours per month, as well as attend the annual fall and spring seminars with the Oregon Police Canine Association. 

The kids especially enjoyed the dunk tank and horses at the event. Local organizations such as the Family Relief Nursery of Cottage Grove set up booths to raise awareness and fundraise. Food vendors such as Oregon Ice Cream and 58 Espresso served up treats, too.

“There’s lots of people out here having fun,” May said. “I’ve had a phenomenal experience in Creswell so far. I love the small-town environment – and I’m having fun too.”

BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE – More scenes from Springfield’s National Night Out.

BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE – Springfield Lieutenant Matt Neiwert; Duane Esperum, president/member chair of the Springfield Neighborhood Watch, board member Emily Peterson and community member Kendra Hurliman.

Ryleigh Norgrove and Bob Williams contributed to this report.