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Safety Role Familiar face checks meters on Saturdays

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 8, 2006

Kristi Viuhkola will stroll through the downtown business corridor today with a ticket book in hand — and a huge smile on her face.

“At the end of the day this job just fits my personality. I love people and I love being out there and not behind the scenes,” said Viuhkola, the city’s new Community Service Officer.

She is undaunted by the fact that some people might not be pleased about having to now plug parking meters on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Viuhkola will alternate weekends with parking officer Ronda Gimlin.

Viuhkola is used to dealing with irate members of the public after six years as an administrative assistant with the Hood River City Police Department. Plus, she is the daughter of a retired police chief from Clatskanie.

“Believe me, this is a realm I’m already familiar with. I think of this as an opportunity to be an ambassador and, hopefully, help people not feel so negative about parking enforcement,” she said.

Her $37,500 annual salary will be partially funded by the average of 90 parking citations she issued each weekend. She will also collect fines from violators of city codes, including health, nuisances, signage, sanitation and weed reduction.

Viuhkola is not at all worried about the one-year probationary status of her new position. She believes that enough money will be found to keep the program going — and it will increase the quality of life for area residents.

By enforcing parking limits on busy streets, she said merchants will have more opportunities for sales. And by enforcing city codes, many residential conflicts will be eliminated and the viewscape protected.

“I think it is very proactive for citizens to have our ordinances enforced,” she said.

But Viuhkola is especially pleased with the educational element of her role. She will instruct community members and service organizations about how to reduce crime in neighborhoods. In addition, she will hold public seminars on the correct use of child car seats and restraint systems. And provide information on traffic, bicycle and pedestrian safety.

While helping Chief Bruce Ludwig develop criteria for the position, Viuhkola compiled a thick notebook of materials for these programs. Since she assisted in defining the perimeters of the job — and is already familiar with police functions — Viuhkola said becoming the Community Service Officer was just a natural career move.

“I’m so in favor of this. I think it has so much potential and I’m so excited — I am probably over the top with optimism about the whole thing,” she said.

Ludwig said another important element of Viuhkola’s role is to supervise the storage of evidence. He said having only one person handling items will preserve the chain of custody in criminal cases.

The remainder of her duty roster is filled with tasks such as processing minor crime scene for latent fingerprints, and assisting with municipal court functions.

“Kristi is good with people and this is just a natural fit. She always enjoys a challenge and this job will definitely give her plenty of variety,” Ludwig said.

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