Police chief: Fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve Gold Beach

By P.J. Janik, Gold Beach Police Chief February 19, 2011 04:00 am

The other day, I was asked a tough question: “Chief, are you looking forward to getting back to Arizona?” 

At the moment, it was raining cats and dogs, and the wind would have made great footage for the Weather Channel! So, you’d have thought the obvious answer would have been “yes.” And since my wife, family and home is in Arizona, you’d  think it would have been a definite “yes.” But instead, it was a rather difficult question to answer. Let me explain.

It’s not very often your job happens to be your passion, or that the passion leads to the rewards I’ve seen here at Gold Beach. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity.  Let me share with you briefly some of those experiences, which I hope you will find both interesting and entertaining.

 One of my first experiences as chief of police was being called out to a scene near Euchre Creek to assist  the Curry County Sheriff’s Office in a perimeter search.   I actually had to look at a map to find Euchre Creek! It could have been in Agness for all I knew. For the record, I did know where Agness was, thanks to my GPS system trying to take me there over Bear Camp Mountain for a trip to Medford. Fortunately, the good folks at the Indian Creek Café persuaded me to take Highway 101, and then 199 over to I-5.

 Another unusual call for a former city cop was to  “dispatch” a deer that had been hit along Ellensburg Ave. My first thought was, “Isn’t this something Fish and Game cops do?” Nope, it was a job for the Chief! For the record, it’s still one of the hardest things for me to do. But, I appreciate Curry County Detective Dave Gardiner for showing me how. On another occasion, a fawn that had been struck had somehow managed to make its way to Buffington Park. The ever-resourceful Catherine Powers of the Curry County Animal Shelter made a huge impression on me by being able to summon out a veterinarian.

 Mother Nature gave me a greater appreciation and respect for all her sea creatures.  After a successful day of fishing and crabbing on the Rogue with the mayor and his lovely wife Judy, we started to clean up at the port’s fish station. One of those crabs took exception to being the main course of my dinner. In its last act of defiance, it took a healthy pinch of my thumb! Didn’t he know who he was dealing with – I am the chief of police! Well, I’m not ashamed to say I was brought to tears by this feisty crab.  They say “misery loves company” but it was certainly not the case, as my former fishing friends had tears in their eyes…from laughter.

I want to say that one of the perks of being chief of police was fishing with Mayor Jim Wernicke. He may not always be mayor of Gold Beach, but he’ll always be the “Mayor of the Rogue River” in my book.

 Then there was the morning Coach Swift’s “Black Death” truck was rolled over near the football field. I should note that prior to that event there were several “turfings” of the playing field. A community member made it a point to inform me that the Gold Beach Football Camp is what makes Gold Beach famous, and I had better solve these horrendous crimes. I appreciated the advice, as I later realized the annual football camp is very much part of Gold Beach’s culture and a point of pride for the community. Unfortunately, my career as a new chief was off to a bad start since I was never able to solve those incidents. Sorry coach!

 One of the saddest events was being called out in the middle of night during a wind and rain storm by Sergeant Giovannetti. A transient had been struck and killed while walking down the middle of Highway 101 near Hunter Creek. When I arrived at the scene, I asked to examine the victim. I recognized him not as an unknown transient, but as Lincoln Peck, a homeless man who’d come to the Gold Beach Police Department lobby just a few days earlier asking to be arrested. It’s something I’ll always remember. Later, I had the opportunity to meet his loving extended family. Lincoln Peck became more than just a traffic statistic. I will always wonder why our paths crossed and what could have been done differently.

 Make no mistake, there have been a lot of great days as well. Such as the on-going bantering between myself and Gold Beach police traffic safety volunteer Wally Blackburn about his frequent request for a pay raise. I kept reminding him I’d gladly pay him double his starting salary if he’d simply admit the obvious truth that a Harley Davidson is a better motorcycle than his Honda Gold Wing. So far, I haven’t had to make that salary adjustment. Wally is one of our many great Volunteers In Policing (VIPs). The volunteers bring to us not only their time, but their life experiences. One of my greatest points of pride to this day is our volunteers.

 I also recall the shipments of goodies from the U.S. Department of Defense Reutilization Program. From laptop computers to a truck, it not only brought us some needed equipment, but also showed the community we could be resourceful. I remember someone saying it was like “Christmas morning” every time a shipment arrived. Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know when I heard that Los Angeles County sheriff’s semi-tractor-trailer truck blast its air horn announcing its presence in our city hall parking lot, I was thinking it was a pretty odd sound for a reindeer! To think that the giant Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office was willing to help deliver those needed supplies to little GBPD is just unbelievable. As a side note, Sgt. Watkin from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, the man responsible for making those transfers, has become a good friend. My wife and I later met up with him on a vacation trip to San Diego where he gave us a tour of the famous USS Midway where he volunteers his time as a docent.

It just goes to show you how professional the networking of law enforcement agencies can become when we all roll up our sleeves! From the south, I had the pleasure of working along  side Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack, and to the north, Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels. We both were transplants from somewhere else and shared a lot of great times together – including riding our Harleys! These were folks I would have never met had it not been for the opportunity I had here in Gold Beach.

 National Night Out 2010 was a great day for both the community and the Gold Beach Police Department. Folks came out to meet  with   local first responders as well as some out of towners. I want to thank Sheriff John Bishop and his staff for their assistance. Probably one of the most cherished scenes was the smile on Lester Bridgeman’s face when he won the “Judge’s Choice” car trophy award. We formed some great partners to include the first Block Watch neighborhood on Wallace Street, which led to the arrest of a trespasser several weeks ago!

 I came to have a better appreciation of our community through my association with the Gold Beach Senior Center. Truly, a wealth of knowledge and life experiences passes through those doors every day. I want to personally thank the staff and members for letting me  be part of their lives.

 No doubt, I am confident that more good will come of all of this. I had a chance to take a peek at some of the applicants who have applied for the chief’s position. I can assure you, there are some great folks out there who, just like me, want the opportunity to serve.

 Finally, one can’t help but be impressed with the surreal beauty this part of the planet has to offer. From foggy mornings to enchanted sunsets, the skyline seems to provide one of the greatest shows on earth. I think my wife and I will always have fond memories in our hearts regarding the pristine beauty of Gold Beach and the Southern Oregon Coast. I want to thank her for agreeing to be part of this amazing life adventure with me. And for that reason alone, I will be anxious to return to Arizona to follow her career opportunity. These last few weekends I have been wandering up and down the coastline looking for liberated crab buoys like an aimless beachcomber. And when I do find one, it will always remind me of the feisty crab that put the pinch on the chief!

Until then, be safe!