New officers fill void at SHPD

Sean C. Morgan

Two new police officers, one a former college football player and the other a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, started at Sweet Home Police Department last week.

Rocky Hanni, 27, and Matt Johnson, 22, went to work on Jan. 23, filling two of three vacant positions. In local training now, they will attend the Police Academy in Salem and then return for further field training before going to work solo.

Hanni grew up in Sumner, Wash., and moved to Sweet Home from Puyallup, Wash. He attended Eastern Washington University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He graduated in 2009.

An offensive lineman, he played football in high school and was a four-year starter in college. His football career included tryouts with the Seattle Seahawks, but an injury ended any further pursuit of the game. Most recently, he was working in a paper mill.

Hanni had been testing for a while, he said. His wife is about to graduate from college, and they decided to look in other states. They visited family in Albany during Thanksgiving, and family members mentioned that Sweet Home had openings.

It seemed like a good fit, he said. “I like the outdoors, the trees and mountains and hills everywhere. I was always interested in the small communities because it’s a lot more proactive police work.”

He has had a long-term interest in law enforcement, he said. “A friend’s dad was a Pierce County deputy, and he just kind of turned me onto it in junior high. He just said it was the best job you could have.”

He completed an internship with the Cheney, Wash., Police Department in a community about the size of Lebanon.

During his career, “I would like to move up as far as I can,” Hanni said. “That’s why I went to school.”

As an officer, he thinks he will enjoy most “just getting out and just being able to contact people and see how things are going instead of going call to call like bigger cities,” he said.

Friday was his first day on the road, he said. Among the calls were a dispute over an iPod, an eviction and a couple of alarms that were accidental.

Hanni enjoys camping, hunting and fishing, he said. He was a volunteer coach at Sumner High School for the past three years, and he’d like to get back into coaching.

He is married to Janelle. They have no children, but they have two dogs.

He is enjoying Sweet Home so far, he said. “I think it’s a nice little city. I haven’t seen all that much of it. As of now, I like it.”

And the other officers he has met so far seem like good people, he said.

Johnson grew up in Newburg; Olympia, Wash.; and North Plains. He graduated from high school in Hillsboro. He served four years as an infantryman in the Marine Corps, which included seven-month deployments to eastern Asia and Afghanistan.

He was based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. In his deployment to Asia, he trained with military personnel in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. He visited a variety of other countries on liberty, including Hong Kong. His second deployment was to Afghanistan where he spent time on foot patrols and saw a lot of contact with the enemy during the first few months.

After his discharge from the Marines, he settled in Albany and attended Oregon State University, where he studied industrial engineering.

He decided that was boring and switched to sociology, crime and justice, Johnson said. Sweet Home Police Department hired him before he started those courses.

“I thought I was going to love an office job after four years in the Marines,” Johnson said. “I kind of felt like when I was doing industrial engineering, everyone was in it just to make money.”

He said he felt stagnant, but he didn’t want to re-enlist. He talked to a few people and went on a ridealong with an officer in Beaverton.

The officer in Beaverton “did a lot of behavioral profiling,” Johnson said, adding that he found that interesting because he had been through some similar training in the Marines in a combat hunters course. The course included biometrics, profiling, facial tics to help detect lying and more, he said. “Officers use that a lot. It really appealed.”

He started looking for work in law enforcement and learned that Sweet Home was hiring. He researched Sweet Home and applied.

He is most interested in the investigation side of police work and would like to work as a detective eventually, Johnson said.

He had driven through Sweet Home before on the way to Hoodoo, he said. “I like it. It’s a nice small town, kind of like North Plains, where I grew up.”

He likes how the officers know so many people on a first-name basis, he said. “It’s nice to get back to a small town.”

He enjoys skiing, he said. He enjoyed sailing in California and he’s looking forward to boating on the local lakes. He also enjoys fishing and camping.

His first day on the road was also Friday, he said. “I basically just shadowed Sgt. (Jeff) Lynn. It was fun to get out there and start doing what I’m doing with the rest of my life.”

He also enjoyed familiarizing himself with Sweet Home.

Johnson is married to Veronica. They have no children, but they have one dog.