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A Cop's Best Friend

Carl Nightengale (and Sgt. Bear) help out police

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Starsky and Hutch...Cagney and Lacey...Friday and Gannon...Toody and Muldoon...they have nothing on the Independence crimefighting duo of Carl Nightengale and Sgt. Bear. Nightengale, the traffic safety technician for the Independence Police Department, using his plush partner as a decoy to intimidate drivers into slowing down. The rest of the time, Nightengale is serving in a variety of capacities to help make Independence streets a little safer.

INDEPENDENCE -- You zip along the street a good 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.

Suddenly you see a police car. You slow way down to avoid a ticket.

Congratulations. You have just been intimidated by a stuffed bear.

Sgt. Bear may not be the toughest cop on the beat, but the plush police officer helps keep lead-footed motorists on their toes.

So to speak.

Carl Nightengale is the man behind the bear.

He's been the Independence Police Department's traffic safety technician since February.

Sgt. Bear is a darn fine policeman, said Nightengale. Err, that is policewoman.

"Sgt. Bear is a she," said Nightengale. "She got mad at me once for calling her a he then she and she hasn't talked to me since."

Her being a stuffed animal only deepened the communications barrier.

Nightengale's position was funded by a $4,500 grant from the Community Traffic Safety in Oregon. The grant just ran out. Department officials want to keep Nightengale and his furry partner on the job.

So they're applying for more money.

"Nightengale does pretty much anything related to traffic besides enforcement," Police Chief Vern Wells said. "The grant was written to maximize the use of traffic safety tools."

Aside from his job as a traffic safety technician, Nightengale volunteers a great deal of his time to the Independence Police Department.

"No job is beneath me," he said. "Any job other than traffic safety I do as a volunteer. I wash the police cars.

"I really enjoy it."

Nightengale updates the reader board in front of the Independence Police Department. Some of the messages are now in Spanish. "That was one of my innovations," he said.

Nightengale retired after 29 years as a supervisor at the Houston Kodak Company in Rochester, NY.

He moved to Monmouth and became active in the community. He helped lead the drive to create a skatepark at the S-curve between Monmouth and Independence.

He also served as interim director of the Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nightengale welcomed the opporunity to work with the police department.

"I thought I'd be good at it. I was available and I enjoy working with the police department. It's turned out to be everything I expected."

Aside from supervising Sgt. Bear, Nightengale also puts out the speed trailer to let people know how fast they are driving. He also places crosswalk signs notifying people of an impending crosswalk and the traffic survey computer.

The big orange crosswalk signs will be particularly visible in the next few weeks as school starts.

Nightengale also checks for any obstructions. If it is hard to see around a corner, Nightengale reports it to the city, county or Oregon Department of Transportation and the obstruction is cleared.

"Sometimes we solve it to a resident's satisfaction, sometimes not," Nightengale said.

Driving at night, Nightengale also checks for problems with the street lights. "Most of the time people call in about lighting problems."

Nightengale put out the tubes people driver over which, in turn, relay traffic information to a police computer.

The tubes record the number of vehicles, the size of the vehicles (by length of the axle) and the average speed at various points in the day.

Nightengale began stretching the cables on the more heavily traveled streets in Independence.

"Right now we are receiving complaints about truck traffic on Seventh Street," he said. "People are complaining about the number of trucks using it."

Putting down the cables usually takes almost an hour and a half. It involves stretching the cables across the road in the morning traffic and nailing them into place with asphalt nails.

"You have to make sure to lock the computer up," Nightengale said.

"It is probably the most valuable thing I do and the least visible. Monmouth Street gets a huge amount of traffic -- more than Main or 16th streets."

Nightengale reports to Sgt. Bob Mason. However, he also takes some direction from the traffic safety commission.

He also maintains the department's Website in addition to several sites of his own.

Nightengale enjoys picking up the odd jobs around the department.

"Before me, it would've been an officer's job to do all these things."

If the grant is approved for next year, department officials hope to assign one of the bilingual officers to do a regular radio show on KWIP 880 AM.

"The officer would give a talk and then have a call-in for people with questions about traffic safety," Nightengale said.

Nightengale warns that Sgt. Bear can be a crafty critter. If you see her, don't assume you can romp on the accelerator.

She often stakes out a location in the morning, and just when people start feeling safe zipping by a stuffed bear, a real officer takes her place.

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