By Chelsea Deffenbacher The Register-Guard
EUGENE, Ore. — Police officers aren’t only armed with guns, pepper spray and Tasers.
Now they’re also armed with debit cards to help people in need.
The Eugene Police Foundation recently took over fundraising for a small-scale community fund that’s been used by EPD over the past several years. The foundation hopes to help the fund grow with a more steady stream of contributions, rather than past practices of relying on sporadic one-time donations.
Through this program, supervisors have debit cards to use when they encounter a person with a problem.
“The Eugene Police Department had an internal fund, funded through churches and citizens, but it wasn’t consistent,” said Foundation Board President Lee Lashway. “There was never any ongoing support for it, and they never had the ability to predict when funds would arrive. So they asked us to pick it up, to give more consistency for it. It’s no longer inside the EPD, but it’s part of the foundation. And we make no decisions on its use, we just support it financially.”
Lt. Doug Mozan is one of the supervisors. He can recall a number of times people have been assisted by the community fund, including just last week when an officer encountered a family with small children at a homeless camp in west Eugene.
There was some uncertainty of whether a sex offender was also in the camp, Mozan said. Rather than attempt to talk to each member of the camp before placing the family in the camp, Mozan said officers instead saw an opportunity.
They used the fund to put the family into a hotel for a couple of nights. “We had an opportunity to house these guys, as it was rainy and cold,” Mozan said. “We gave them a little rest, and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”
Domestic violence victims who needed a place to stay for the night, homeless people who needed a pair of shoes, and a man who needed a car part to leave town and another who needed a bus ticket to go home are other examples Mozan recalled of when the fund has been put to good use.
The fund also helps Eugene citizens have more positive and proactive interactions with police, Lashway said. Some of what inspired the foundation to take over the fund was new Police Chief Chris Skinner, who came to Eugene at the end of April.
“Police foundations have a tendency to raise money to buy things, like a K-9 or a SWAT truck or Tasers,” Chief Skinner said last month. “Which is really, really important. But the first thing I asked this foundation to entertain is to create a section of the foundation that has a community care fund — which is money that we raise that sits in a bank account and through the ability of giving debit cards to supervisors, we have the ability to access those community care funds for people in need that we see on a daily basis.”
The foundation now is working on fundraising goals, which include securing $3,000 by the end of the year.
The fund is going to be dependent on community support, but officers will have the ability to provide a “simple little one-time assist,” for those who really need it, Lashway said.
Lashway said he is looking forward to seeing how officers react to a more-stable funding source and how many people they are able to help.
Skinner said he wants the department to be seen as a strong charitable personality, with more funds used to help families, as well as programs like “Shop With A Cop” taking place for underprivileged children on Dec. 8 in Eugene.