Othello Police stage open house

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Charles Featherstone/Sun Tribune Othello Police Chief Phil Schenck signs the police officer scavenger hunt of Margarita Garcia on Thursday night at the department’s annual open house.

OTHELLO — It’s not every day you smell carne asada grilling in the parking lot of the city hall and police department here.

But Thursday was no ordinary day for the Othello Police Department either.

“We did this last year, and it was such a good turnout that we decided to do it again this year,” said Rachel Alanis, one of the owners of Tu Taqueria. “We like to help.”

They are, of course, helping by serving up tacos for the police department’s second “No-Shave November” fundraiser and open house, which opened the department up and gave area residents — including many scampering children — the run of the department.

“We started this last year as a fundraiser,” said Police Chief Phil Schenck, sporting a long, braided fake salt-and-pepper beard that makes him look a bit like an aging Mongol chieftain. “We wanted to bring our community in.”

This year, Schenck said the funds will be used to support the department’s Shop-with-a-Cop Christmas program — which sees police officers take children from needy families out on a shopping spree — as well as support the OPD’s Police Explorer Program.

“We try to have 15-25 kids in the Explorer Program, and use the money to send them all over the state to camps and other events,” Schenck said.

In addition to the tacos and hot dogs and the ability to walk freely in and out of the city’s two sparse jail cells, kids wandered around with sheets of paper bearing the photos of five OPD officers — a “scavenger hunt,” and if you got all five to sign, you got a prize.

“I got all of them!” said Margarita Garza after finally identifying Schenck underneath all the braided fake whiskers.

“As Explorers, we’re here to show our presence,” said Police Explorer Britney Ramirez as she handed out the scavenger hunt sheets. “We’re here for the community as well, just helping out.”

Schenck is proud of the city’s large Police Explorer program, which allows the police department to foster and sustain relationships throughout the Othello community as well as help teenagers figure out where they are going and what they want to do with their lives.

“One of the most important things we can do as adults is mentor young people,” he said. “For the years I’ve been involved with the Police Explorers, I’ve watched explorers turn into police officers, police dispatchers, go get four-year degrees.”

“The idea is to just be successful,” the chief added. “This is a great day and a great event.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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