When police officers unnecessarily use force, make mistakes or otherwise entangle themselves in controversy, this often makes the headlines. As such, it can be easy to overlook all of the work that they do to protect and assist local communities each and every day.
Lt. David Natt, who has been employed by Eugene Police since 2002, made international news when going about his work day in February 2015. After previously serving in the Marine Corps, Natt had been assisting the people of Eugene for well over a decade.
Lt. Natt was exploring Alton Baker Park at around 10:30 p.m., approximately half-an-hour before it was going to close, when he spotted a suspicious car. As he approached the vehicle, it became apparent that there were several people inside.
In the car was Robert Wood with his wife Heather and their young sons, Samuel, four, and two-year-old Logan. The boys were trying to sleep through the cold winter weather. Temperatures can drop as low as 36 ° F in Eugene in February.
The family were returning to Eugene from Alaska, in fact, but hadn’t found anywhere to live yet. So they decided to sleep in the car, rather than spend money on a hotel room. Indeed, they’d done the same thing on the Alaska Highway earlier in their journey.
Wood admitted that he feared the worst when a police officer approached the car, as he was aware of the imminent closing time. He said, “You think the police are going to come up and rouse you and harass you and be like, ‘Get out of here, you loser. What are you doing in your car?’”
In actual fact, Lt. Natt offered to put Wood and his family up in a hotel, using money donated to the police force to be used for good causes. The funds had been raised by University Fellowship Church in South Eugene five years prior to the incident.
Wood refused the offer twice, because he didn’t like the idea of taking funds that could be used to help other people. But Lt. Natt eventually convinced Wood to accept the money. “He took away the shame and let me know that he’s just a person, I’m just a person and things like this happen,” Wood explained. “It was moving.”
It emerged that both Wood and Latt had served in the same unit of the Marine Corps – 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines – albeit about ten years apart. So, this was also a case of a Marine helping a Marine, not just a police officer assisting a citizen.
The family were then put up at a nearby hotel for two nights, after which they were able to find temporary accommodation with some friends. However, the Woods couldn’t forget the generosity of the police officer who helped them, and they wanted to publicly recognize this good deed.
Wood consequently put together an emotional Facebook post in which he praised the generosity of Lt. Natt. Towards the end of the lengthy message, Wood wrote: “I am grateful and feel humbled by this man’s generosity and humanity. I am ashamed that I have not done better in life so that I could be the one who lends the helping hand. That’s all I really want to do anyways.”
Wood was also keen to recognize the great job that all police officers across the world do. “Don’t hate on the police. They are there for you when you need them,” he continued. “There are bad characters in all walks of life, but never believe that the police are there to hurt you. Those men and women who choose to wear body armor and help people do so with good courageous hearts.”
Wood’s post subsequently went viral, attracting over 10,000 likes, more than 3,500 shares and hundreds of comments praising the good work of the police force. The local media covered the story soon afterwards, too. But the popularity of his message surprised Wood. “I guess people are hungry for good news,” he told KMTR.
Lt. Natt isn’t a fan of the spotlight, however, but he agreed to speak to local media about the incident. “It’s part of our three-word motto: ‘protect, serve and care,’” he told KMTR. “And you have to take each one of those in all circumstances to heart when you’re making your decisions.”
What’s more, at the time of the incident, Heather Wood was pregnant with the family’s third child. Her husband started looking for employment as a glazier in Eugene. And the family were also on the hunt for a two-bedroom property in any safe local neighborhood.
The family had even toyed with the idea of naming their third child David, if it was born as a boy. In the end, though, they had a girl, Elizabeth, and have since added their fourth child, Ollie, to the clan.
The family reside in Lt. David Natt’s hometown of Eugene, Oregon, to this day. Robert and Heather celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary in 2017 and appear to be firmly back on their feet.
Years after Lt. Watt put this family up in a hotel, the story still garners attention on social media. So, his generosity continues to give police officers across the United States a good name. And perhaps it makes people think of the thousands of good deeds that don’t receive such widespread exposure.
Credit should also be given to University Fellowship Church for raising so much money that there was still enough left over to help the Wood family more than half a decade later. The congregation decided not to spend as much money on themselves over Christmas that year and felt that the money could be put to better use in the hands of the Eugene Police department.
“He made me want to be able to do the same kinds of things for other people,” Wood said of Lt. Natt. This story shows that there is good in the world, and that there are people willing to give you a helping hand when you need it.