The little car pulled out of the Morton High School parking lot and turned onto a nearby street. The police lights illuminated, following for a moment until it pulled over. Morton Chief of Police Roger Morningstar stepped out of his patrol car and strolled up to the vehicle. Leaning in, he said to the driver, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
The teenage boy, wearing a green wig as part of a school spirit day, looked nervous.
Chief Morningstar smiled and said, “I noticed you used your blinker back there. We’re looking for drivers doing the right thing. Thank you.”
The driver, Carter Johnson, didn’t quite relax yet, unsure of his luck. Then Chief Morningstar handed him an envelope containing certificates from Morton Spiffy’s, the Roxy Theater, Subway, Papa Bear’s Restaurant and the Rabbit Hole – local businesses who love giving back to the community.
Johnson smiled then, realizing he wasn’t in trouble. Chief Morningstar wished him a good day and returned to his car. “This is really fun,” he said with a grin.
The stop was part of “Emphasis Patrol,” an endeavor to build relationships with youth and reward appropriate behavior. I was excited to ride along and join in the fun.
Meeting at the police station before heading to the high school, Chief Morningstar, Jeanette Chamberlain of the Police Auxiliary, and Derrick Patsey, School Resource Officer, showed me around. They explained some of the ideas being used to help the police department, area youth and community build strong relationships.
We walked into the back of the police station so I could see the new youth center. After the local Teen Center had to close, Morningstar and other community members wanted a place for area kids to gather and be productive. A mentoring coordinator was recently hired and will start soon. They will be in the center to engage kids and facilitate activities such as field trips. They are also adding a Police Department Explorer Post.
“We want it to be more than just a place to hang out,” says Chief Morningstar, who goes on to explain that there’s a comprehensive approach to building good relationships with kids. “We want to break down walls to make kids feel connected to their community and to the police department. We want them to feel vested in their community. They may grow up and move away for a while, but they’ll want to move back to Morton because they feel so connected to it.”
The first part of the Emphasis Patrol included a trip inside the high school to present reward envelopes to exceptional students. Facilitated by Dean of Students Jordan Austin, Morningstar, Chamberlain and Patsey visited classrooms to find the selected students. Walking into each classroom set off a round of laughter as kids immediately started joking around, saying, “I didn’t do it!”
- Hannah Smathers received her reward for being a good student, good athlete, a responsible person and someone who likes challenging herself.
- John Revetria was selected for being a model student, respectful to everyone and well-liked for his sense of humor.
- Cassandra Auzston was chosen because she takes school seriously and works hard in academics.
The Positive Emphasis Patrol is a partnership between the Morton Up! Coalition and the Morton Police Department. Other fun events are planned throughout the year to continue building those relationships. On Halloween, the Coalition and the police department will be out doing the “Trick or Treat Patrol.” Five patrol cars will be keeping everyone safe and handing out glow sticks. “Last year we handed out about 100 sticks to kids, and we hope to double that this year,” Morningstar says.
At Christmas they will hold their third “North Pole Patrol.” Based on “Shop with a Cop,” eight kids from Morton and eight from Mossyrock will be selected to have breakfast with the police. Kids can bring one family member each. Santa will arrive and help to serve breakfast before giving each child a big gift and a little gift. “It’s all about them,” says Morningstar with a smile.
Morningstar has an obvious passion for the safety and well-being of local kids, even though he’s only been in Morton for three years. He credits his fast involvement and acceptance within the community to former Police Chief and now mayor, Dan Mortensen, as well as Lewis County Community Prevention Coordinator and former chair of the Morton Up! Coalition, Casey Peters. “My second day here, she was knocking on my door and asking if I wanted to be part of Morton Up!,” says Morningstar. “I love it here; it’s so much easier to connect with the community than in a larger city. And we want the kids here to know that we really care about them.”