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Deputy haunts last jailhouse

Community: Coordinator to retire after planning annual Sheriff’s Station event for 21 years

Posted: October 31, 2010 9:59 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s Deputy Pat Rissler, center, coordinates the Haunted Jailhouse and Carnival with the help of volunteers and fellow deputies at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station in Santa Clarita on Sunday.

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Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s Deputy Pat Rissler marched around the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station on Saturday, purposefully giving orders to volunteers and deputies as they transformed the parking lot and jail into Sunday’s Haunted Jailhouse and Carnival.

The station hosted its 21st installment of the event. It was also Rissler’s 21st — and last. The 30-year sheriff’s department veteran will retire in March, and hang up his Halloween hat as Haunted Jailhouse coordinator.

As a community relations and crime prevention deputy, Rissler, 56, worked with children throughout his law enforcement career.

“It’s always good to interact with the children. They look up to you,” Rissler said, adding that the Haunted Jailhouse isn’t a kids-only event. “It’s something for the whole community to come in and see. We can show the Sheriff’s Department in a different light. They can see we’re actually people and we work for you as a community.”

Rissler, a mustached man with a purposeful walk and straightforward tone, recalled the first event fondly. This was before the station was blocked off by the adjacent courthouse and Valencia Library by a brick wall.

The sheriff’s deputies were stunned to see the line to get into the event wrapped around the entire building, Rissler said.

The second year, the event had clearly taken on a life of its own. So the third year, the deputies added the carnival component. Dozens of game and food booths line the parking lot, staffed by local nonprofits including the American Diabetes Association and the SCV Boys and Girls Club.

Jim Ventress, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley, has planned and orchestrated the event alongside Rissler each year since the popular event was created.

“That’s when we realized we had something,” Ventress said.

Both credited longtime Santa Clarita resident Leon Worden and retired Sheriff’s Chief Bob Spier with coming up with the idea of giving the station’s October open house a Halloween theme.

Rissler’s thoroughness and attention to detail make the event a success each year, Ventress said. And a dry sense of humor helps too.

“He’s been a fun teammate,” Ventress said.

Rissler is charged with clearing the jailhouse and keeping the event safe for all who volunteer and attend. Inmates are sent to a reception center during the event and the jail rooms are scrubbed clean. Rissler works as the liaison between the sheriff’s deputies and several community groups involved.

“It’s a unique opportunity for the public to come out and visit an actual, working jail,” Rissler said as he walked over and around groups of teenage volunteers Saturday as they stapled black construction paper to the walls and outfitted rooms with different, spooky themes. “It’s just plain scary.”

Rissler’s main concern was making sure the event is safe. And he’s thought of everything, from flame-resistant construction paper to a ham radio volunteer ready with a fire extinguisher in each room of the jail.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Darren Harris thanked Rissler for his service in a statement last week.

“Just think, some of the children that attended this event 21 years ago are 30 years old and bringing their children,” Harris said.

Rissler, who is married with four children, said he would spend his retirement aiming for the perfect blend of taking it easy and keeping himself busy.

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