Editor's note: The video above is a conversation about the 'Breaking The Silence' initiative that several newsrooms across the region collaborated on earlier this year. See below for more on the program
NEWBERG, Ore. -- On a hot summer afternoon at Loran Douglas Field on the campus of Newberg High School, community organizations gathered to celebrate the arrival of a new police car. It wasn’t any typical cruiser, however. Rather, it features a unique paint job, stickers and multicolored flashing lights.
The squad car was redesigned to promote suicide prevention – an issue that has garnered great importance to Newberg School District officials, teachers, parents and students over the past several years.
The idea was brought on by Doug and Lori Petersen, whose son Page took his own life in January 2015. The effort was funded fully by local donors such as Newberg Ford, Star Cars in Dundee and the Newberg Thrift Shop, among others.
Speaking on the driver’s side of the tricked-out cop car, Newberg-Dundee Police Department Public Information Officer Brian Hagen outlined the origins of the project.
“In the search for light and healing from this tragedy, the Petersen family contacted the Newberg-Dundee Police Department with an idea to honor Page’s memory,” Hagen said. “A proposal was made to design a police car with special graphics and lighting to raise awareness for suicide prevention.”
This car is assigned to Newberg High School resource officer Jeff Moreland and will be on campus beginning this month. The hood features the Newberg Tigers logo and the sides include messages of hope and encouragement to reach out for help, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The rear deck lid of the vehicle features a short tribute to Page Petersen.
“The car will be seen every day by hundreds of students and at the very least raise some awareness,” Hagen said. “We’re hoping that the message goes further so people realize that police officers are people you can approach to talk about this issue.”
Moreland, in particular, is a resource for students in need and welcomed the new car and its function for students. He thought the idea was “fantastic” and looked forward to students checking out the car this fall.
Moreland lost a close friend to suicide nearly 30 years ago and said the issue is personal for him. Creating another avenue through which students can find someone to talk to about their feelings is crucial, he said.
“Suicide in our society is a tragedy that has a ripple effect for generations,” Moreland said. “Being in law enforcement for 20 years and in EMS before that, I have seen firsthand the tragedies that could have been prevented if someone had just spoken up or talked to someone. I’m hoping this car is something that will spark those conversations and help someone realize that the pain doesn’t last forever.”
The car serves as a rolling billboard, Hagen said, for students to reach out to someone if they are feeling depressed or suicidal. It also has the potential to initiate a dialogue between them and a police officer like Moreland, who could assist them in finding the resources they need.
Hagen made note of the fact that every suicide call is responded to by a police officer, so they often absorb the trauma and feel the impact of suicide on families and members of the community. That gives them an important perspective when talking to teens and others about suicide.
At the end of his short speech, Hagen turned to Petersen’s parents – Doug and Lori – who were in attendance at the unveiling of the car.
“We are inspired by your strength and your continued involvement in the community through this project,” Hagen said. “As the Newberg-Dundee Police Department we are so honored to carry your son’s name on the rear deck of our car in his memory.”
Beaming with pride after the event, Doug and Lori Petersen thanked the officers and donors in attendance for their work on the project.
It is an extension of the Petersens’ work in the community to honor their son, with previous efforts taking the form of college scholarships for NHS students.
“We’ve given away scholarships, and that’s been great, but it’s hard to track just how effective things were,” Doug Petersen said.
“We got this idea from a nephew in Salem who did a similar project, and the police department ran with it,” Lori Petersen said. “We’re hoping it becomes the students’ car in the same way that it’s the police’s. This is really special for those kids.”
Breaking the Silence
This month, newsrooms across the state are highlighting the public health crisis of death by suicide. Our goal of “Breaking the Silence” is to not only put a spotlight on a problem that claimed the lives of more than 800 Oregonians last year, but also examine research into how prevention can and does work and offer our readers, listeners and viewers resources to help if they – or those they know – are in crisis.
More than 40 newsrooms contributed stories when the project first launched in April. This September media outlets are producing new stories in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month. When possible, we will promote each other’s stories, and all of them can be found on breakingthesilenceor.com