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Neighbors helping neighbors

When Father Nathan Packard was killed in a plane crash in September 2004, Morris physician John Stock was at the scene as assistant Stevens County Coroner.

The accident got Stock thinking about the state of law enforcement in the county.

Law enforcement personnel were on the scene around the clock, securing and guarding the crash site until aviation investigators arrived.

That accident taxed resources more than it should have, Stock said. What happens if we have a tornado in Donnelly or a big fire in Hancock. We have to have people we can call when something like this happens.

Stock met with Stevens County Sheriff Randy Willis and Sheriffs Deputy Greg Reese about forming a Sheriffs Posse. In March 2005, 14 people attended the first meeting and the posse was born.

The potential (for law enforcement) to get stretched pretty thin is there, Reese said. Its nice to know the posse is there if needed.

The posse of four women and 10 men provide traffic control and crowd monitoring at events like the Stevens County Fair, Prairie Pioneer Days, street dances and parades and concerts.

Members also accompany deputies during ride-alongs and prisoner transports, especially for women prisoners.

Posse members also are licensed gun safety and snowmobile safety instructors, and the water safety and All-Terrain Vehicle classes are expected to be offered soon.

Posse members worked 11 events in 2005 for a total of more than 216 hours, and they participated in 24 ride-alongs and prison transports for a total of more than 170 hours.

I think were pretty active for as large a group as we are, Reese said.

The posse members also spent more than 50 hours in training in such areas as first aid and CPR training, blood-bourn pathogens, Mobile Command Trailer procedures and defensive tactics and posse protocol.

Nothing will take the place of a licensed officer, Reese said. But this way a licensed officer doesnt have to be sitting in a car, watching a barricade or a crime scene. They dont make arrests, but they are at events in case something happens.

The posses flexibility was evident last year when two children were lost in a field. The children were found just as a posse member arrived, but the family was grateful help arrived so quickly, said posse member John Dosdall.

Those people were pretty happy that we were right there, Dosdall said.

Posse members have a number of reasons for volunteering their services, but the primary reason is community service, said posse member Josh Fischer.

The service aspect is a big thing, said Fischer, who has worked as a dispatcher, Emergency Medical Technician and fire fighter. Obviously, we dont do it for the money.

Visibility is another helpful aspect of the posse program. The public has had a positive response to seeing citizen law enforcement personnel at events, and that presence helps foster community bonds, Stock said.

Its for the safety of our citizens, Stock said. The posse is people in the community that are pretty well known, and theyre showing that they support law enforcement.

Several surrounding counties also have posses, and Reese said Douglas Countys group served as his model.

The Stevens County posse is adding events to its schedule, and while it isnt to the point of expanding, Reese said he and other posse members would like to be informed if other community members are interested in getting involved.

Potential posse members are asked to contact current posse members about applying, or to contact the Sheriffs Office at (320) 589-1155, Reese said.