Mingling with law enforcement

MARSHALL – Rico, a 4-year-old Belgium Malinois police dog, was one of the many highlights at the 2013 National Night Out celebration Tuesday at Justice Park in Marshall.

The K-9 has been partnered with Chippewa County Sheriff deputy Richard Shamla for two years and was on hand Tuesday for drug detection demonstrations at the sixth annual event, which is sponsored by the Marshall Police Department, Lyon County Sheriff’s Department and the Marshall Area Crime Fund.

“We’ve sponsored National Night Out since 2008,” said Kim Rupp, one of the organizers of the event. “It’s a positive way for people to interact with local law enforcement. We wanted to have a fun, community event where people can do a lot of things for free or inexpensively and be able to get to know law enforcement.”

After Rico successfully found a minute amount of marijuana hidden by Shamla, the K-9 partners took time to interact with various people in attendance.

“Rico is basically a Dutch Shepherd,” Shamla said in response to questions. “He’s kind of a one-trick pony. We don’t teach him other things, like hunting. He’s just trained to detect illegal narcotics.”

One youngster, Kadin Otto, asked Shamla why Rico didn’t wear a vest if he was a police dog. After pointing out that only apprehension dogs needed vests, Shamla then had to explain what apprehension meant.

“Apprehension dogs might go into a building to get a bad guy,” Shamla said. “But Rico just finds drugs. He’s more submissive, which means he doesn’t have to be the biggest, toughest dog. He sits down when he finds the odor, and he’s trained to get in tight on the source.”

Shamla noted that he was amazed by how many tasks dogs are able to do.

“In addition to drug detection and bomb detection, I have even heard that dogs can detect bed bugs so hotels and motels can go through and eliminate the problem quickly,” Shamla said. “It seem complicated for us, but it’s probably simple for the dogs. They’re just letting us know when they detect it.”

Other children and adults peppered Shamla with questions, which he said he appreciated.

“The more communication you can have with the police and sheriff departments, the better it is,” he said. “So many people have questions, so this is a good time to answer those questions. That way people can have a better understanding of what we do. It’s a good way to build a relationship.”

Jennifer Hills and Judy Jacobs, Minnesota Department of Transportation representatives, were also kept busy at the event. While Jacobs handed out literature and adhered tattoos on the arms of children, Hills let attendees climb into the driver’s seat of the bright orange snow plow she drives in the winter time. She even let kids honk the horn.

“That was awesome,” said Randi Wendorff, who was accompanied by her sister, Abby and brother, Ethan. “It was pretty loud, and it would probably have hurt my ears if the windows hadn’t been rolled down.”

Hills pointed out to people that they shouldn’t crowd a snow plow. On the back of the large vehicle, a poster read: “Just because we are big doesn’t mean that we can see you.” After guessing how wide the snow plow blade was, Hills allowed people to actually measure the distance, which was 12 feet.

“It’s the same width as the average state highway lane,” Hills said.

Jacobs said that MnDOT offers elementary programs as well as helping to educate drivers training students and “seasoned drivers” as well.

“We’re partners in the community,” she said. “We show the kids a great video, and they bring our message home and tell their parents and grandparents, especially about not crowding the plow. We also talk to the kids about safe distances around snow plows and that anytime we are out, it’s considered a work zone.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to explore a North Memorial ambulance.

“Kids can climb in and explore,” said Alex Bitton, who has been with North Memorial for five months. “The helicopter was supposed to be here, too, but it got called out. It’s in Rochester right now.”

With the assistance of National Guardsman Jeff Reisdorfer, Ethan Schaffran and Eastyn Ochocki scrambled into a small unit support (SUS) vehicle at the park. A few minutes later, sisters Summer and Hallie Sharp got a boost into the back seat of the unique vehicle.

“It’s the only Mercedes I’ll ever drive,” Reisdorfer said. “It was made in Switzerland and has a Mercedes motor in it.”

Reisdorfer noted that the SUS was used more in the Luverne area because of winter rescue along I-90, but that it had multiple functions in this area.

“I pulled all the electronics out, so the kids can crawl around in the vehicle,” he said. “It’s a good event. We don’t have a lot of local events anymore, so this is nice.”

There were plenty of other games and activities to both entertain and educate people who came out for the event, including a new “marshmallow driving contest” run by the Marshall Police Department. Though they didn’t earn one of the top prizes, Gustavo Patalan was all smiles as he helped his 1-year-old granddaughter, Leila Ayala, try to chip the large marshmallow as far as they could. For their valiant effort, they both received a free water bottle, as did all the participants.

“Whoever hits the marshmallow the farthest will win prizes,” said Rupp, who is the administrative assistant for the Marshall Police Department. “There are three age categories. It’s just another way for people to positively interact with people from the police department.”

Rupp shared her appreciation of the Marshall YMCA for bringing its inflatable jumping castle and for the Girls Scouts, who supplied hot dogs, brats and chips.

“It’s nice the Y brought their hopper for kids to use for free and that the Girls Scouts can participate,” she said. “The fundraiser allows the Girls Scouts to do a lot of things locally that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

Of course, there was also face painting and pony rides available.

“It was good,” said 6-year-old Jackson Decristofaro, who was all smiles as he and his sister Marley, 4, rode the ponies.