Police officer discusses K9 program with council

Benny Westcott

Sweet Home Police Department Officer Brian Prather on Tuesday, Dec. 13, gave a presentation to the City Council on the department’s K9 program.

“Patrol canines are mostly described in general as bite dogs, but they do a lot more than just bite,” he said, adding that Albany police officer Ben Arthur’s animal had zero bites last year.

“That’s what we want to see,” Prather said. “Because if we can get compliance without having to get somebody hurt, then it’s all the better for everybody.”

He noted that K-9 dogs are capable of tracking people and being “a show of force instead of actually use-of-force.”

Prather explained how these programs have been affected by the 2020 passing of Measure 110, which made personal non-commercial possession of a controlled substance no more than a Class E violation with a maximum fine of $100.

“That changed a lot of things, not only with policing in general but also with the utilization of a narcotics canine,” he said.

“It put a lot of restrictions on us, where we have to go forward and get a search warrant instead of going off of what our canine is telling us. It’s so difficult for us right now to really enforce anything. We used to be able to look in a car and see a small baggie and we’re going to see the whole car. Now it’s ‘Here’s your citation.'”

He said that many narcotics programs statewide have shut down as a result of the measure, resulting in fewer trainers and handlers for drug-sniffing dogs.

“It’s been very difficult for us to even find the appropriate and effective training, just because so many people have stopped their programs altogether,” he said.

Sweet Home’s department has put a hold on its program, as well,

but only because its previous dog, Gemma, who Prather handled, retired in August after roughly five years of service. (“Honoring a very good girl,” The New Era, Sept. 7, 2022.)

“Gemma was really useful,” Prather recalled. “She was a great partner and was able to get us through a lot of things, not just in town but with assisting other agencies.”

Now Prather is advocating for another dog, noting that a fully trained animal costs around $10,000.

“When people run from us, if they have something like a felony warrant or we have probable cause for a felony arrest, we could utilize K9,” Prather explained. “A canine’s going to be faster than a human, so hopefully we can prevent people from getting away in situations like those. Even in just recent times, [I] and other officers have had people with felony warrants run from us, and sometimes people are a lot faster than us. They’re probably not wearing 40 pounds of gear.”

He said that dogs provided “not just a physiological deterrent with seeing the dog and being like ‘OK, I don’t want to get bit, so I’m going to comply,’ but also a psychological thing. People can hear it and say, ‘OK, there’s a dog. I’m not going to mess around. They’re going to catch me anyway.'”

Prather noted that the dog could be useful to both Sweet Home and its surrounding areas.

“It’s not only that the canine would work for the city, but it would benefit the county as well,” he said. “If there’s not a canine available in Brownsville, for example, maybe I could head that way and be an assisting officer on that if they needed a canine for tracking purposes.”

Prather wasn’t concerned about the risk of liability.

“I believe that [I] and a canine as a team would put our best foot forward and always make sure we’re doing what’s right and what’s legal,” he said. “So I don’t think that the liability factor is necessarily there.”

Mayor Greg Mahler supported the idea of another police dog.

“I’m hoping we get this K9,” he said. “I’m all for it. I’m ecstatic for it. Not just for biting suspects but for the protection of our officers.

“Back in the ’80s when I worked with the county, I got the golden opportunity to work with the canine over there. Raider was phenomenal. That dog could find any lost child or person, even a very long time after they’ve left. It was amazing. If they’re trained right, they are an asset.”

Mahler asked if a new dog would be able to detect fentanyl. Prather believed only the Medford Police Department’s canine could do that so far.

“One of the biggest concerns I have is the amount of fentanyl that’s coming into the U.S. and our area,” Mahler said. “So if there’s an opportunity to get the canine trained on fentanyl, I would highly recommend it.”

In other action:

— Mahler proclaimed that Measure 22, which prohibited psilocybin-related businesses in the city, would become effective Jan. 1. Sweet Home residents passed the measure in November with 61% of its constituency. Linn County approved it 58% to 42%, voting in line with 27 counties around the state, save Jackson and Deschutes.

— The council voted unanimously to amend an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Oregon Department of Transportation for the latter’s project to update American with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps on highways 20 and 228.

The amendment included that ODOT was responsible for the construction, future maintenance, and electricity costs of a pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Main Street and 22nd Avenue.

This addition is being funded with American Rescue Plan funds obtained by Councilor Angelita Sanchez through State Representative Jamie Cate and State Senator Fred Girod. Some $500,000 in ARPA funding for the 22nd Avenue pedestrian safety project from the state has been received by the city

and will be passed to ODOT to pay for the improvements.

Over the past several years, the city has dealt with several complaints and requests to make the intersection of Main Street and 22nd Avenue safer for pedestrians.

“That’s something that we had been working on for quite a while, trying to get that intersection safer because there had been a number of incidents and near misses that made it a very unsafe intersection for pedestrians,” Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen said.

Sanchez expressed her appreciation to ODOT Consultant Project Manager Brennan Burbank, who attended the meeting virtually.

“Thank you so much for what you’re doing in our community, and investing on this Highway 20,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really looking forward to continuing our relationship to bring more pedestrian and traffic safety to this highway. There [are] a lot of incidents, and whatever we can do to keep our community more safe, I really appreciate it.”

— The council unanimously voted to authorize City Manager Kelcey Young to sign a Pacific Power Oregon Clean Fuels Electric Mobility Grant Agreement that would bring two electric-vehicle direct-current fast-charging stations to Sweet Home, specifically on 10th Avenue, a road to be converted to one-way traffic to add head-in (90-degree) parking spaces to the downtown area and match a similar one-way conversion on 13th seen an increasing number of electric vehicles, as well as a push toward more electric-vehicle infrastructure.

Pacific Power administers the Oregon Clean Fuels Electric Mobility grants, or e-mobility, program, which offers grants for improvements associated with electric vehicles, from fleet conversions to charging stations. This grant potentially covers an entire project, with no local match required. In addition, the program may provide up to 75% of the funding at a project’s beginning, with the remaining 25% provided upon completion.

In August, city staff submitted an application to Pacific Power for an e-mobility grant, proposing that the new parking on 10th Avenue include two electric-vehicle direct-current fast-charging stations.

Larsen noted that Sweet Home’s position as the easternmost community along Highway 20 on the

west side of the Cascades made it an ideal location for travelers driving from the coast to Central Oregon.

“This can benefit Sweet Home’s downtown area, as travelers often patronize businesses next to charging stations while they wait for their vehicle to charge,” Larsen wrote in his request for council action.

“Even if the cost of this system only paid for itself and then went to the company [that’s] running it, it would still be an amenity downtown that we don’t have right now,” he said. “And it would still lead to Sweet Home being on the map when it comes to that charging infrastructure being a destination point.”

Currently, the nearest publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations are in Lebanon, but they are level 1 or level 2 chargers that require several hours. Direct-current stations can charge a vehicle in less than one hour, and the nearest station of that type is in Albany. The nearest such stations to the east of Sweet Home are in Sisters.

The proposed grant award is for a maximum of $200,000.

The completed stations will be owned by the city. Several firms manage charging stations and are paid only through usage fees. Larsen noted that these stations do not currently produce a lot of revenue, but they can at least pay for their own operating costs.

“Staff recommend seeking a firm to manage the charging stations for the city in such a manner that they are entirely self-sustaining or bring revenue to the city,” Larsen wrote in the RCA. “If any revenue is generated from the charging stations, it could be directed to downtown improvements and events.”

— The council voted unanimously to adopt the Sweet Home Park and Tree Committee’s proposal of a 40-foot-wide-by-26-foot-deep structure with pushouts in the middle for viewing performances from all sides as the city’s vision for a replacement Sankey Park bandstand, and to direct staff to include the project on the Parks Capital Projects List and work with the committee to begin gathering donations and seek grant funding.

The old Sankey Park bandstand was demolished in 2021 due to its dangerous condition and the infeasibility of rehabilitation. At that time, the council directed staff to work toward replacing it with a similar structure that incorporated elements of the original.

“During the Harvest Festival and since then, we canvassed several prominent individuals throughout the community, giving them this general design and asking if that was something they’d support,” Park and Tree Committee Chairman Wally Shreves said. “And they said absolutely. They liked that.”

On the bandstand’s south side is a raised hill section that Shreves said the committee would like to see landscaped into three-level terrace seating with ADA access to the first level.

“I really like this construction, and I particularly like the idea of putting the amphitheater seats there,” Councilor Diane Gerson said. “It really adds to the versatility of it.”

“I like the see-through feature,” Councilor Susan Coleman said of the proposed bandstand. “I think it adds to safety and visibility.”

Sanchez, the sole councilor who voted against demolishing the old bandstand last year, was disappointed that the proposed structure did not call to mind the original as much as she would have liked.

“One of the things that was concerning to me is that we were tearing down the historic feature of the park, the bandstand,” she said.

“And I appreciate all the work that you guys have done to get us to this point in time, but I don’t see how it replicates very well what the existing structure was. If it were up to me, I would like some more intricate detail, maybe on the facade or something, to better reflect what used to be there and remember that going forward.”

“We did keep pieces of the material from the original bandstand that we could use on this structure,” Shreves replied. “We’ve talked about trying to have similar items on it like the original.”

“I don’t want that to get lost in translation over the course of time.” Sanchez said.

The city’s current budget does not allocate any funding toward the project. The Park and Tree Committee estimated that the replacement structure would cost $179,000.

— The council unanimously voted to refer a proposal to vacate a portion of Redwood Street to the Sweet Home Planning Commission, after William Ruby of the Lebanon-based William Ruby Construction requested that the street be vacated off 53rd Avenue to make two lots available for the construction of “two very nice homes.”

Redwood Street immediately west of 53rd is currently an unimproved public-right-of-way that contains no public infrastructure, pavement, curbing, storm drainage or other normal right-of-way components. Theoretically, it offers access to some properties, but all have access to 53rd through an access easement and the adjacent railroad right-of-way.

Larsen noted that this portion of Redwood Street would be “extremely expensive” to develop due to topographical constraints: a severe 15- to 30-foot difference in grade on 53rd’s west side, which would necessitate a large amount of fill and retaining walls, making development of the street “costprohibitive.”

— The council voted unanimously to grant authorization to procure materials and services with the city’s integrator of record to replace a failed raw-water valve at the city’s water treatment plant.

The project was initiated in 2019 and deferred due to budget and staff capacity. Public Works Director Greg Springman noted that site conditions have worsened to the point that the project needed to be activated. The estimated cost of the project is $129,381.

— Springman reported that the cost to repair a 12-inch water main inside the Pleasant Valley Bridge that failed on Aug. 22 was $16,500. Pacific Excavation, Inc. completed the repair and ordered brackets and supports, which were installed in mid-October.

— Meeting attendees bade farewell to outgoing Councilor Diane Gerson, who had served since July 2016.

“It has always been clear to me that you love the city and take your role seriously,” Mahler said. “You have sacrificed a lot in the service of this community. You do what you believe is right. Individually and in this group, you have protected the city and made it better. We get only so many heartbeats in life, and that you have given so many years of service to this community is remarkable and inspiring.”

“At any given council meeting, you have made decisions that will impact several generations, on topics ranging from police, budget, trees, parks, transportation, parking, road maintenance, homelessness, medical services, mental health, housing, land use, water quality, sewer, utility rates and economic development, just to name a few,” he continued. “To do this, you have attended council meetings, hearings, public meetings, liaison meetings and public events. Your council packets are typically more than a few pages, and you’ve reviewed each and every one of them to every detail. It’s amazing.”

“It is a lot of time, and you sure don’t do it for the money or recognition,” he continued. “Even though you will still be involved in some capacity in the city, you will be sorely missed on this council.”

A former resident of the upper Calapooia River area, the retired elementary school principal from the Duarte Unified School District in Duarte, Calif. moved to Sweet Home two years before joining the council. She served on the Sweet Home School Board for seven years and on the board for the Sweet Home Economic Development Group. Additionally, she was president of the FA chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization. She has been chairwoman of the city’s budget committee and has served on the Library Board as well as on the Linn County Commission on Children and Families and the Kidco Head Start board of directors. She has also been president of the Friends of the Library.

— Mahler praised the Dec. 10 Parade of Lights event.

“I think the entire chamber [of commerce] and everybody did a phenomenal job,” he said. “I was extremely impressed. It was fun to watch.”

“It was absolutely beautiful,” Young agreed. “I want to commend the staff, the police department and public works, as well as everyone who came together to make that happen. It all happened very seamlessly, which was very impressive.”

Both also discussed Marine veterans Justin LeHew, Ray Shinohara and Coleman Kinzer, who passed through Sweet Home on Dec. 9, walking all 3,365 miles of U.S. Highway 20 between Boston, Mass., to Newport. The effort, dubbed “The Long Road,” was meant to raise funds for History Flight, a nonprofit dedicated to identifying the remains of U.S. military personnel killed overseas and

then arranging their transportation home.

“I was very appreciative of their service and what they stood for,” Mahler said. “What they’ve done and how they structured this whole process was very impressive.”

He noted how the group had two walkers with one safety car following but rotated that safety car to walking.

“If you really look at where they came from and what they trekked over, it’s very impressive,” he said. “I like the support we got from our city in welcoming them.”

Mahler said he presented the men with three pairs of Slip-N-Snip Scissors from the Sweet Home-based company of the same name, in a special package he’d once received from Slip-N-Snip’s founder, the late Ed Selander.

Young gave the veterans three challenge coins from the police department.

“It was wonderful having the veterans come through,” she said.

“I want to call out Sweet Home Fire District for that beautiful welcome, as well as the flag that was over Highway 20 and the escort that continued with both the police department and the fire district. It was a really neat welcome, and it was exciting to see what the community was able to bring forward and all of the support there, even considering how cold it was that night.”

— Police Chief Jason Ogden reported that his department had a suspect in custody within 18 hours after Mr. Lucky’s Deli employee John Brasher, 24, was held at gunpoint in an armed robbery at the restaurant at 2 a.m. Friday, Dec. 9.

SHPD officers went to the scene and took the report. The following day, Detective Geoff Hamlin was able to obtain video surveillance from nearby businesses and identify suspect Randy Scott, 57, of Sweet Home, based on a license plate and recent contacts that the department has had with Scott.

“We’ve had contact with him in our system,” Hamlin said. “So comparing prior photos of him to the video of him inside the business was a match.”

Scott stole $4,000 worth of cash from the deli. SHPD was able to make an arrest but could not recover the cash.

Ogden said of his staff, “They did just a phenomenal investigation. To solve that kind of investigation in that amount of time is incredible. But we had some good surveillance cameras.”

— The council voted unanimously to reappoint Lena Tucker and Nancy Patton to the Park and Tree Committee and Henry Wolthuis to the Planning Commission, all for four-year terms.