Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner looks back at downtown Eugene over the past year and puts it like this: “We started with a question: What would it look like if we used volunteers to supplement what we might do?”
Skinner says nobody knew the answer to his question but everyone was willing to give the idea a try. The police have a limited number of people, and volunteers could both supplement the police presence in key areas of town and provide positive community outreach. So in March, the EPD launched an experimental program, the Downtown Support Team (DTS). The initial DST was staffed with a dozen, mostly senior-aged volunteers garbed in yellow DST t-shirts and windbreakers, prompting their unofficial handle, the Yellowjackets. The volunteers were hired for their solid communication skills, diverse life experiences, de-escalation abilities, and familiarity with the many resources the city provides.
From the jump, safety, cleanliness, and positive activities have topped the pyramid of DST objectives. Volunteers liaise with businesses. They offer steering and guidance to visitors. They provide individuals and groups with resources for keeping downtown accessible to everyone.
Tonya Andrews is a DST volunteer. She clearly enjoys the contributions she’s making to downtown. “I think the neighborhood has gotten far more usable,” says Andrews. “If people take opportunities to come down here, they’ll find it’s a really receptive place.”
“The volunteers are not doing law enforcement,” says EPD volunteer manager Lindy Smith. Smith says EPD officers are always available to help out downtown. “It’s just that a lot of DST business is best handled using the team’s trademark gentleness and calm. DAT volunteers have a heart to serve. They want to make a difference.”