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Cowell calls it quits
Cowell leaves PSU1.jpg
Lester Cowell has signed off as a member of McMinnville Police Department’s Public Safety Unit. The unit started in August 2003 with Cowell among the founding members. Cowell’s last day was Monday. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

McMinnville Police Department’s Public Safety Unit has been out in force patrolling the streets for 15 years.

Now one of its founding members, Lester Cowell, has retired.

“I enjoyed my time in the unit,” said Cowell. “I’m going to miss it. I’m going to be 83 years old in November. I think it’s time.”

The unit is a group of volunteers who work to better the community by lending a helping hand in activities that do not require a police officer.

The Public Safety Unit was established in August 2003 under the leadership of former mayor Royce Davenport. Volunteers underwent 30 hours of training that outlined their responsibilities, as well as the dos and don’ts of the unit, before they hit the streets two months later.

Cowell says he was urged by Davenport to join.

“I thought it sounded interesting. I decided to do it. I’m glad I did. It allowed me to work with officers and get to know more people in the community. When the unit started, some officers weren’t too happy about the idea. They didn’t know what to expect. Once we got past that and they understood what our duties would be, they accepted us.”

The primary purpose of the PSU is to enhance the community by supporting local emergency services, such as fire, emergency medical and police, while making positive contacts with citizens. Members perform non-enforcement duties such as assisting stranded motorists, offering traffic control during funerals, conducting welfare and safety checks, and patrolling area businesses and city-owned parks.

When asked about interesting moments, Cowell says he almost misdirected a funeral procession once.

“I knew we were going to Highway 108, that’s toward Viola, but for some reason I got that mixed up in my head with Highway 8 toward Harrison Ferry Road. So, we’re on North Chancery. When we got to the intersection where I’m supposed to go straight, I turned left onto East Colville. I look in my rearview mirror and the hearse kept going straight. I booked it down Depot Bottom and was able to get back in front of it from Bridge Street.”

Cowell said the situation wasn’t funny at the time, but he can laugh about it now.

In order to become a Public Safety Unit officer, individuals must, among other requirements, undergo and pass background and fingerprint checks, commit to work a minimum of four hours per week and, for a minimum of one year be under the direction of the Police Department and sign a contract agreement, and pass all training.

For more information on the Public Safety Unit, contact the Police Department at 473-3808.