SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: 2002 WINTER OLYMPICS
By Chris Collins
For The Observer
A partnership that was formed more than a year ago between a Baker County sheriffs deputy and a drug-sniffing chocolate lab will help curb contraband at the Winter Olympics.
Deputy Dee Gorrell initially was one of 500 law enforcement officers across the country to be selected to provide his services at Salt Lake City during most of February. Upon learning that he was part of a canine team, the Olympic organizers next asked him to bring the sheriffs departments narcotics detection dog, Reed, along for the special assignment.
Gorrell, a former Union County law enforcement officer, applied to join the security team at the Winter Olympics this summer on a whim after learning about the opportunity from his brother-in-law, Jeff Rowell, a Utah State Patrol officer.
He first submitted a one-page application of interest. Next he completed what he says was a book-like application that detailed his police training and experience.
Gorrell, 35, is starting his sixth year with the Baker County Sheriffs Department and was recently assigned full time to the Baker County Narcotics Enforcement Team. His 13-year law enforcement career also includes work with the Union County Sheriffs Office, the La Grande and Elgin police departments and a stint as the Huntington city marshal in 1995.
He has served as a defensive tactics instructor at the Oregon police academy and is the tactical commander for the countys Tactical Emergency Response Team. Sheriff Troy Hale recommended Gorrell for the work and is enthused about his representation of Baker County at the Olympics.
I think its a great opportunity for us, Hale said. Its nice to be able to involve Baker County to help with national security of an international event.
Sept. 11 alters duties
The details of the assignment have not been finalized and earlier plans already have changed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gorrell said. Because of those changes, he is uncertain whether he will be going alone or with Reed.
Since the terrorist attacks, another 1,000 people have been added to the security corps and new strategies have been devised for protecting those participating in and viewing the events, he said. They are expecting 700 to 1,000 protesters each day.
We dont know what theyll be protesting, Gorrell said. In anticipation of Reeds services being put to use, Gorrell said the dogs training has been modified to teach him to focus for longer periods and to prepare him to search luggage and boxes rather than houses and vehicles.
Gorrell admits that his attitude about participating also has changed some because of the Sept. 11 attacks.
It makes you nervous, he said. There will be millions of people at this event, and you cant help but wonder if we are going to be a focus point of another tragedy.
As is his nature, Gorrell is taking the anticipation and apprehension of the event in stride.
I havent really gotten excited the final letter isnt in my hand, he said. Im just kind of waiting to see.
A road trip to remember
Gorrell and Reed plan to travel to Salt Lake City in a sheriffs department pickup truck. Reed will be housed in back under a canopy cover, which will become his usual mode of travel when the two return to their regular assignment in Baker County.
Gorrells one disappointment is that hell be serving in the Winter Olympics rather than the summer games where hed be able to watch the worlds top wrestlers. A sixth-place finisher at state as a high school wrestler in La Grande, Gorrell also wrestled while attending Ricks College (now Brigham Young University-Idaho) at Rexburg, Idaho. He continues to pursue his interest in the sport through service to the community. He is a referee for high school matches and teaches wrestling strategies as a defensive tactics and self-defense instructor.
Before turning his life toward a law enforcement career, he even considered joining the professional wrestling circuit. Despite his preference for the summer games, Gorrell will take a seat in the stands as a spectator at Salt Lake City during his off hours. As perks of the job, hell receive free admission to watch the contests along with a uniform, hat, coat, jacket and two badges items that are especially appealing to his two sons, 11-year-old Joshua and 9-year-old Matthew.
Theyre 100 percent excited, Gorrell says. And though his wife, Monica, is nervous after Sept. 11, she is supportive of his assignment and will be looking forward to the figure-skating competition of the games.
Gorrells real excitement is for the experience and training hell gain through working with the other officers and federal agents wholl be part of the security team.
The training experience will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, he said.
Its hard for Gorrell to imagine the security needs for the international competition. His past experience has been limited to the East-West Shrine All-Star Football Game and the 1A basketball tournaments that come to town annually.
I just did it because of the opportunity, he said, admitting that he really didnt expect to be chosen for the job. Thats my thing to look for opportunities for experience and growth to better myself and the department.