Andy Anderson was interviewed on January 30, 2015 by Jan Yaeger at his home in Seldovia, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Andy talks about coming to Seldovia, getting hired as the police chief, and the challenges of being a police officer in a small town. He also talks about changes in Seldovia after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake.
Digital Asset Information
Date of Interview: Jan 30, 2015
Narrator(s): Andy Anderson
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
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Personal background and coming to Seldovia
Getting the job as police chief in Seldovia
Breaking up a fight
Getting police training, and impact of job on family
Police work and dealing with drunks and fights at the bars
Support from the Alaska State Troopers
Challenges of being a police officer in a small town
The Fuzzball and raising money for the police department
Practical jokes with Gerry Willard
Describing Gerry Willard
Changes in Seldovia after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
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JAN YAEGER: It is January 30, 2015. It is 2:20 in the afternoon and this is Jan Yaeger speaking with Andy Anderson in a recording for the Seldovia Village Tribe’s "In Our Words Project."
And so, Andy, what brought you to Seldovia and when did you first come?
ANDY ANDERSON: 1964. A one-way ticket, I might add. I was born and raised on a farm back in southern Illinois and my dad was a carpenter. I'm the youngest of six boys.
And so the boys more or less we -- we more or less did the farm labor and stuff and dad was a carpenter-contractor. And so it took both entities to kind of make it back in those days.
We moved off the farm into town and he kept doing the contracting stuff and that was in Illinois. Later on, he built a bowling alley in Winchester, Illinois for a guy name of Cotton Owens and it went well and Cotton branched out and he built another one in Canton, Missouri.
And after dad built the second bowling alley for him, dad was getting a little older and wanted to slow down and so he gave him the opportunity to manage and run the bowling alley.
So we moved. In 1960, we moved to Canton, Missouri.
And so in 1964, my brother Dean, who was already in Alaska in Seldovia at the time, they connived to get me up here. I was one of those kids that knew it all and nobody else knew anything.
So I quit school. And I said that I didn’t need that. I wanted to go out and make money. And so I was working on the farm and they --
We all kind of got together. I wasn’t getting along too well at home and so we all kind of said well, why don’t we go to Alaska for the summer just to look it over.
And so in 1964, May 1st, I came to Seldovia. And first time I'd ever traveled. First time I'd ever seen a body of water I couldn’t swim across.
So you can -- the culture shock you can only imagine. But -- and you couldn’t just run back home so I was here three and a half years before I went back home.
And my brother left the following spring to go on another job and that's kind of when I started my fishing career. I worked in the canneries here the first winter and off and on for the next few years.
But I started fishing the smaller boats. King crab, mostly. And then later on it became tanner or snow crab as most people know it.
But, yeah, it was day fishing mostly out here and delivering every day to the canneries. At that time, it was boardwalk days so we had four canneries on shore and a couple of floaters. And they had a shrimp plant and two crab plants and a onshore salmon plant. And then they had two crab plants that were floaters.
And just a lot of boats, a lot of movement. I would estimate probably around 2,000 people in the area when I came to Seldovia and all the workers and fishermen and everybody.
So that kept on until I got on the bigger boats and then I started going to the Bering Islands, Kodiak, the west side and also Portlock Banks. And then we went out to the Bering Sea and south end of Kodiak and really got into the fishing in the big way and --
And I was married in 1967, and my daughter was born in December of ’68. And I found myself away from home and not seeing her grow.
And we moved to Anchorage in 1974. And so from ’74 to ’79, I worked construction. And I was out on the Inlet running tugs and diving boats and then I was on the North Slope running heavy equipment. So we've done quite a few different things and fishing was a big part of our life.
So I come back after five months gone -- actual five months gone on the Slope running a boat out of Prudhoe Bay. We got two months of water time and three months of working on the boat type thing, but it was a lot of stress, a lot of problems that I wasn’t seeing at home.
And I had my wife and daughter who lived in Anchorage and were scared to death of the place. Ann didn’t drive at that time, so I didn’t realize what all they were going through.
And we sat down and had a good talk and I said, nah, this is not working. So that's when we came back to Seldovia.
And so that was in the spring of 1979. My brother-in-law and I went across to Chinitna in our skiffs and we gillnetted herring for six weeks that spring.
And did all right. We made some money.
And then I came back and I fished halibut out of my skiff and didn’t have any other job and no other work. My wife would run the outboard and I’d pull -- pull the gear by hand, so pretty rough.
But then a guy by the name of Don Caswell came up to me one day and just -- the ninth day of August 1979 and offered me the job of Chief of Police here for a six week period.
And, of course, that six weeks that run into 32 years so we -- we only took it as a temporary thing. Didn’t aspire to be a police officer, didn’t really think about it.
Didn’t know what I was getting into. And so it became quite a career. But that's how it kind of led to my being a police officer.
I wasn’t -- I got one eye that I lost in a farming accident when I was seven years old. I'm overweight. I've always had a weight problem -- not to this extent but a weight problem. And I didn’t have a high school diploma.
So all three of those things was not induce -- conductive of being a police officer. I mean, you just don’t do that, you know. Anywhere but Seldovia I couldn’t have done it, but I did.
I took on the job as police officer here and -- and I guess they say the rest is history. But it was really a learning experience. And I never ever had a job before putting on the badge that I was scared to death of like I was the police job.
I knew all the people. I had -- well, we had partied, we had fought, we had, you know, were friends and the whole nine yards, but I knew everybody but I didn’t know how to police ‘em.
And I didn’t know really what that meant. And so over time you do what you can.
I made a motto. And this was on the ninth day of -- of August ’79 when I -- actually talking to myself. I said, well, I got to treat everybody alike. I can’t be different because I know them better or I don’t like this person or I do like this person. So I made a motto for myself that I tried to adhere to my whole career.
And that's treat a drunk like a preacher and a preacher like a drunk. And that was kind of my way of telling me once in a while that, hey, you know, this is what you said you was going to do, now let’s tuck it in here a little bit, you know.
So because you do -- you have a lot of awesome power by wearing the gun and policing the people. And you can’t abuse the power and I could see where that -- that could happen.
I made some bad mistakes. We had a situation one time where I got called to the Seldovia Lodge, which was a bar and restaurant and a little hotel. And there was a fight going on. And so I rolled up there to -- to take care of the situation. Kind of calm it down.
And we had a crew off of a boat that was in, and new to this area, and I don’t know if you know what a four five six game is, but it's a dice game that gets real expensive real fast.
You can win a lot of money, but you can lose a lot of money real fast. And so there was some money lost and there was a check that wasn’t signed worth a hundred dollars that they was saying some people took.
Well, it turned out that this crew was against the town locals and all this. So I brought the crew and put them back on their boat and told them to stay on the boat.
Well, one of the town locals went down and punched the skipper out or the owner out and there was a shot fired and, I mean, it got pretty hectic after that. But, so I wondering what I should do --
I guess I should preface this a little bit with there was a big storm the day before and we still had remnants of it. It was still blowing pretty good,
But up on top of the mountain we've got a reflector and that's how you get your phone. But it had tipped a little bit and we didn’t have any phones or anything and so I really couldn’t call the troopers or anybody and get some information of how I should handle it.
So I geared up some guys and we -- I armed them with shotguns and one guy with a rifle and put him in a position and considered the worst, hoped for the best.
Went down and actually took the shotgun that they had used to fire this round from them and then asked that they leave the harbor. And they were all intoxicated.
And I guess any police officer worth his salt would not have asked them to leave the harbor, but I was new at the job and I was trying to protect everybody. So in trying to leave the harbor, they went aground and damaged the boat.
And from that I -- the city and I were sued. And, of course, we lost. They paid -- the insurance paid because it would have been something you can’t tell drunks to get out of town so --
But at the time, I -- I felt that that was the only way. The separation factor. But that didn’t work.
But anyway, that led to my going to Sitka to the Police Academy. One of the best things that ever happened to me. And when I went through Sitka, I learned that I had been libeling the city for a couple years. That there's a lot to policing a town.
That it’s structured -- I mean there's perimeters you cannot go outside of, but it didn’t make any difference to this cowboy, you know, I was trying to do the job.
But, you know, it wasn’t like I was pushing my weight around or anything. I just didn’t know what I was doing. And had it not been for the Alaska State Troopers and Homer Police Department, I would've never made it.
And my wife. I mean, you buy the whole package when you take a badge in this town. The whole family gets to be part of it so -- Whether they want to or not.
But, so things -- things kind of rolled along and time kind of went, you know, and we dealt with a lot of issues. I always have said I know too much about too many and the confidentialities that you have to maintain and everything in this town are -- it’s really --
It’s hard, it really is. ‘Cause a lot of things I wouldn’t even tell the wife and -- and, you know, I mean, the mental thing that you go through with all this laying awake at night and thinking about, I certainly couldn’t put her through that, but it took its toll, as well.
But then my daughter, while she was coming up and living here, she had to stay at home. Either her or her mom had to be at home at night to dispatch, because this was where the police phone was and we had a radio system.
And so she just hated the police effort. And she now has been with -- 11 years with the Tulalip Police Department as a dispatch and dispatcher for -- and now, an evidence officer.
So maybe it's all is worth it in the end, but it’s been quite a ride.
And a lot of things have happened in town that -- that people just cannot believe. One of the big things was that we had four homicides that I dealt with here. And we've had escapees from jail and prison.
And we've had -- Well, we had one guy that was running that was actually involved in a double homicide up in Nikiski. And so we’ve had a lot of people come here and try to hide that are felons or with warrants and whatnot.
But you hide in a crowd, you don’t hide in a town like Seldovia so --
But I think the worst I've ever had as far as the bars -- you got to remember there used to be three bars and they used to really -- really be quite the bars.
But when you have loggers, fishermen, and miners all trying to outdo one another you’ve -- you’ve really got something going so. And that happened for a couple years.
The miners was in here working up at Red Mountain sample-coring and, of course, you had the loggers and the fishermen and so Saturday night and Friday and Saturday night kind of had their own little meaning around here so --
JAN YAEGER: Did you notice a difference in personality between the different bars? Did people tend to favor one over the other or were they all kind of similar?
ANDY ANDERSON: No, they kind of just -- you know, it depended on what they were doing. Some of the bars, and I won’t mention names here, but one of the bars was more tolerant of drunks than others. They’d still serve drunks and they shouldn’t.
And so if you were really wanting to get the load on that’s where you’d go. And, but, for the most part they kind of made the rounds, and you never knew where the big problems were gonna be.
I’ve nearly shot a Vietnamese fellow one time at the Lodge. He was bringing a shotgun in to kill a couple guys, and that was quite a night.
But he and a Filipino were running together, cannery workers, and when the cannery was -- was running, we had a lot more problems because of just the clientele that you have, and, well, more people.
And so they -- fact, they'd got in a fight with a couple other cannery members or workers and they had lost and they went to get a shotgun. And they told the guys they was going to go get a shotgun. And so that's when I got called.
So I went up and here they come back with a shotgun. And so I took the one guy down, but I actually -- actually when I took him down I was between two vehicles and he run across in front of me and I was leveled on him and told him to drop the weapon -- police officer.
And when he seen me, I could see the look in his eyes whether or not he would -- would be able to get me before I got him. And the realization came to me then that I could shoot someone.
I never knew before that point that whether I could or not and -- but he hot potato’d it. And it was fully loaded and off safety and one in the chamber and he didn’t have a plug in that shotgun, so I don’t know how it would have gone if I hadn’t stopped him.
Get him down. I don’t have a deputy at the time. Get him down to the office, Gerry Willard, who was the mayor at the time, I think. A councilman or mayor.
Anyway, I called on him and he was with me to transport. And he didn’t get up there in time to help with the arrest. But anyway, he's there to transport. We get down to the office and I’m in the office where the city clerk/treasurer is now and the phone rings and it’s the Knight Spot Bar.
They got the Filipino down there with knives. So I went down there and had Gerry watch the Vietnamese.
And this happened nine-thirty, ten o'clock at night. And I pushed the door open and here he is with a sword and a big hunting knife. And anyway, I arrested him.
And I learned what tunnel vision was. If you go in the door of the Knight Spot, there's a wall and the bar is to your right and that's where all the activity is. To your right. So it’s a 90 degree thing.
Well, when I opened the door and he’s right there, I told him to put ‘em down and he just laid ‘em across. So I kicked them out of his hands and I got cut and he got cut. And when they hit the floor, I hit him in the chest and he went back against the cigarette machine and started to go to the floor and I put him up against the wall and told him he’s under arrest.
And then when I’ve cuffed him and I've picked up the knives, that’s the first time that I looked around and seen any other person. That bar was full. And that’s the only time that I seen anybody else.
I really realized what tunnel vision was. Had he had a buddy, I’da probably been in a bad way, but thank God we already had his buddy.
So we wound up taking a eleven o’clock plane ride that night to get them out of town. Didn’t have a jail facility so --
That's the kind of things that you run into. Thank God it's not every weekend and every night, but that's the kind of things that can happen in small towns, and so --
But I’ve had a lot of support and I’ve had -- there was a lot of political problems. I had some people not so -- I don’t know, supportive, I guess, on the council at different times and they made your life miserable.
But the police chief don’t work for the council, they work for the city manager. And you got to remind the council of that sometimes.
But, ultimately, if they get five or six votes so that you’re out, the manager does work for the council so -- But so it’s a fine line.
The Alaska State Troopers were a big part of my life. In fact, after I first put the badge on, I think it was on the 10th or 11th that I called the Alaska State Troopers at Homer post. They had a Homer post then.
And I talked to a guy by the name of Bruce Bays. And Bruce was a trooper there, as well as Dan Weatherly.
I got to know these guys really, really well, and they got really, really tired of me I’m sure before -- before it was all over.
But had it not been for them and dispatch at Homer PD and everything, it'd been a whole different story.
But I was able to put in just a month shy of 32 years and I now have the -- at this point, I have the record for the longest serving chief of any city in the state of Alaska. But that and a dollar and a half get you a cup of coffee so, you know, it is what it is.
I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve seen a lot of things that you wouldn’t think would happen in a town like this -- it does.
And I really advocate keeping somebody on the ground with a badge on just for a presence if nothing else. But it just keeps things from happening so --
But it’s hard. It’s a hard job, because you get alienated. You got to do certain things and if it's a friend, you got to carry out like it's --
You know, I mean, you got to be impartial, totally impartial, when it's family. I always have said your Thanksgiving and your Christmas they get a lot quieter after you put the badge on so --
And that was the hard part of it with my wife. She, you know, she was born and raised here. She has got all her relatives here and everything so to -- for them to kind of take the role that I’m in the wrong because they're related, you know, that was pretty hard.
But we got through it. And had it not been for that support, it just won’t work.
You got to have a hundred percent support from those that you live with so, yeah. I think what it's going to take is a homegrown kid here to police it. 'Cause they don’t pay enough to bring somebody in, but anyway, it’s --
I have some regrets, but I don’t have any regrets that I’m gonna lose any sleep over. I wish I could’ve done more in some areas than I could, but --
But, you know, I mean, a career is a career. You get your ups and your downs, but all in all it was a pretty good career.
JAN YAEGER: Can I ask you about one of the -- hopefully the more enjoyable parts of it -- the Fuzzball? ANDY ANDERSON: Oh, goodness.
JAN YAEGER: And how that came to be? And what some of the events you remember from that?'
ANDY ANDERSON: Oh, God, yeah. I originated that. Eight years of Winter Carnival is what that was. And it usually be three or four days long, usually take place in February.
And the whole reason for the Fuzzball was to generate funds for the police department, ‘cause we didn’t have a budget where we could go outside of just the necessities.
And so we thought, well, maybe we can get a few things. And over the years it has really, you know, over those years it really did and it made a lot more things possible. A new camera system and all that.
But anyway, I got a committee kind of together and we started making plans and I called the state troopers and Captain Swackhammer was the guy’s name that kind of headed it up for the troopers.
And, of course, being a captain, he had a lot of pull. And him and I being good buddies that really helped, too.
And so we had a basketball tournament between the Alaska State Troopers, Homer Police Department, English or Port Graham and English Bay, I think, combined.
Wasilla come down and then we had two teams from Seldovia. And that lasted three or four days. And Johnny Gruber and oh, there was a lot of people that took part in that -- that helped organize and everything.
We had snowmachine races and we had three and four-wheeler races. We had old Seldovia movies. We had, oh, just a big feed and raffles and drawings and stuff and the --
We always ended it the same way and that was with a talent show. And it was called “The Not So Ready for Prime Time Talent Show”. I wrote a song for it and every year I'd have to open with that song, but it really got to be the thing.
It got to be more of a roast than a talent show. I mean there was a lot of people had a lot of fun and had a lot of talent. There is a lot of talent in this town.
But one year, Gerry Willard and a bunch of people got together and gave me a pig. Who better to have a pig than the chief of police, he said.
But I got even the next year, I gave him a goat. And so instead of getting somebody else’s goat he had one of his very own. And then, of course, he gave me a dope sniffing turkey and --
One story that -- that I always tell and it just was so, so funny. He got this from a guy -- Willard Farms over in Homer had the -- out the East Road, had a set of matching burros. Donkeys.
And so he had one of those brought over here on a boat. As a joke. He wasn’t going to give it to me or anything. He awarded it to me that night, but it was all, you know, just for the crowd thing, but gave the chief of police a jackass, you know.
Well, it turns out that he has to send it back. And he tells me all about this after it's -- the ha-ha is all over. And so he couldn’t get it loaded the next morning.
So I being from the farm and all we used to do a lot of that, so I helped him load this -- this burro or this donkey. And it was a trailer with a plywood floor in it and, of course, wood sides and everything and no top or anything.
But once we got him up in there and got him tied off, he kept pawing at that so. And they took him on a boat and they took him back over. And boy, a light bulb went off for me. I thought, I’m going to get that Willard once and for all.
Of course, the HEA crew they worked with him, you know, and they was going to take the donkey back. So I called the guy that was going to transport him and I said you got to do me a favor.
I said call Gerry Willard after you deliver this -- this donkey, and I said, but -- and tell him that that donkey pawed a hole through that floor and that you guys didn’t know it and you drug his leg off on the road taking him home.
And I said really make him believe this. And that was hook, line, and sinker. Gerry was just about in tears.
And so that’s kind of how the Fuzzball went, but it was a moneymaker. The fact that we got a brand new camera set up -- I mean we were spending it on all kinds of stuff.
And I don’t know what year it was, the Hilts they lost their son, David, overboard over in Kamishak area. And they did a long search and they couldn’t find the body. And he went off Gordon Giles’ boat, in fact.
So there wasn’t anybody that would spend the money to go over and look any more. They ended the search.
And so Larry Thompson, who owned Homer Air, had twin Aztecs, and so I used some Fuzzball funds and we flew that whole area looking for the body just to get them some closure. We didn’t find it either so.
And then when the road went out -- the kind of things we spent the money on. When the road went out at Rocky River, we couldn’t get the troopers to go out, because there had been nobody that had actually claimed they were in trouble so they couldn’t expend the funds to go on a search and rescue when they didn’t know if there was somebody to search for.
So I again called Larry Thompson and spent some of the Fuzzball funds to make sure nobody was back of that washout. And there weren’t, but you got to know those things to sleep at night so --
So it -- this deal with the Alaska State Troopers, it kind of evolved into my doing most of their work over here and my getting a trooper's commission and us getting a contract with the city and for -- with the troopers with the city.
And so, in fact, I think it's still active today even though it's not being utilized.
But that was one of the big things that a funding source and stuff. We couldn’t use that in our department. It went to the general fund, but at least it was fund source to the city and kind of justified our existence a little bit, too, so, but, yeah.
So those were some of the things that went on. And it, you know, 32 years in 30 minutes here, but there’s not -- I could get specific on a lot of things, but it just --
You got to be dedicated to the job and to the people. And I think the person’s out there to do the job, I just don’t know who that is. And I hope that they can fill the position.
But what other kind of things do you want to hear about from me?
JAN YAEGER: Well, you've mentioned Gerry Willard a couple of times and he, of course, was a, you know, an important figure in Seldovia for a lot of reasons. ANDY ANDERSON: Oh, yeah.
JAN YAEGER: And he’s -- he’s no longer here to tell his story. Could you talk some more about him?
ANDY ANDERSON: Gerry Willard, my goodness. He come here in 1972 working for HEA as a power plant manager. And I never knew a man -- well, he was probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and more like a brother than a friend.
But he had such a big heart. He was so into helping people. Just another day in paradise. This became a statement of his all along, you know.
And he made up hats and he wore -- I’d see him -- we’d be on the street and there would be some strangers in town. He’d just stop and talk to them, see where they’re from and could he show them around, you know. Can I do this, can I do --
And anything that you needed, you know, everybody went to Gerry Willard, because he would come up with it. And, of course, he was a hoarder. He never threw anything away as evidenced by his place over there now, but to -- to have such a man --
Politically, he just loved politics. He was in the political game all the time he was here. And he served as -- he was the first EMT they had and in fact, he trained EMTs here a little bit. And him and his wife.
And then he was mayor. And he was a council member, forever. And, I mean, he just volunteered for everything. And took his -- real seriously the stuff that he could do.
And as a musician, he could pick up anything and in a couple hours have a tune, you know, I mean, he was really gifted in that area, but he never finished a song. But he -- he could play just about anything.
But just an all around just super guy. And I think everybody really loved Gerry Willard. He -- he was outgoing and he -- boy, he had your back if something didn’t sit right and he could do anything to -- to -- to right the wrong. He was right there for you.
And he’s run with me a few times just ‘cause I didn’t have anybody and needed somebody to watch my back. And so, yeah, we developed quite a relationship.
His kids are like -- they’re like my kids, so we stay in touch with the kids and Alberta all the time still and so --
But quite a man and very renowned. And it's only right that his name be on that power plant up there. But -- ‘cause he -- he was a dedicated individual, but very few like Gerry Willard.
I used to really be -- Jack and Susan English, I had the pleasure of knowing them. Bob Gruber and his wife, Johnny’s parents. And Midge and Bob.
And these old-timers, yeah, I mean, you get to thinking about all the people that have gone. My goodness, it’s astounding, you know, and just really some big names in the Seldovia area so --
But, yeah, I was -- I was lucky to have lived a couple of years on the boardwalk and that in itself was -- was really a unique --
And it did, it actually really kind of took the heart out of the town when they took that boardwalk.
There’s a big hill right here I’m right at the toe of, of Cap’s Hill. And used to -- they used to ski off of it. I used to fall off of it. But I’m not much of a skier.
But no, we -- we definitely have enjoyed our life here. I've been here 50 years with the exception of the five years that we were in -- in Anchorage, but --
JAN YAEGER: You said you came here in May of ’64? ANDY ANDERSON: Yeah, May 1st.
JAN YAEGER: So you came very shortly after the earthquake. What was that like as people were just figuring out the land subsidence and so on?
ANDY ANDERSON: The Anchorage airport was still tore up pretty good. So I didn’t see a lot and then, of course, I came right to Seldovia.
The further I came north the smaller the planes got. I -- when I got down to Homer -- I’d never flown before.
When I got to Homer and I got in this six passenger one, or four passenger plane, I thought my God I'm glad I am going to land in Seldovia and not get in a smaller plane than this ‘cause it kept getting littler and littler and littler.
But the boardwalk, like I said, was then, but at high -- extreme high tides it was under water as was all the buildings and homes and stuff on the boardwalk.
And so there’s something had to be done, of course. But the area sunk four to six feet and so Urban Renewal came in.
I -- it was my understanding that the Corps of Engineers would replace the boardwalk at no cost if all the property owners would bring their buildings and property up to that level. And they put it on the ballot.
And I never seen any city so divided before, but they voted it out and the boardwalk went, and Cap’s Hill came down and the fill, so -- JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh.
ANDY ANDERSON: So, yeah, it was a transformation that was really sad to see happen in my view. But everybody had their own feelings on it.
And, of course, for sanitary reasons something had to be done, but -- but --
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember some of the conversations you were hearing in town when you first came here before the Urban Renewal was proposed and as people were trying to figure out what could be done?
ANDY ANDERSON: No, I -- you know, I was a 16 year old kid. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to anybody and what they said. I knew it all back then, you know.
But, you know, I mean, I remember the turmoil that -- between those con, pro and con, but -- and tears. I mean even to the point of I’m gonna move, I’m gonna leave.
And seeing after the Urban Renewal thing went, seeing how the town did in population. I mean, it just shrunk.
And, of course, when I first started as police officer there was still probably 650 people here.