The Anaheim Police Department is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Oscar el Oso, a cuddly mascot that’s bringing residents together to learn about safety.
Oscar el Oso (which translates to Oscar the Bear) has become something of a celebrity in the city, promoting car seat checkups and water and pedestrian safety to the public, and even handing out candy on Halloween.
Oscar is named after Anaheim Traffic Officer Oscar Ayon, who sparked the idea for the mascot during a fortuitous car seat checkup.
A young boy having his car seat inspected was carrying an action figure of a policeman that happened to resemble Ayon. When the boy saw the real-life officer, he became star struck. He shyly asked Ayon to take a picture with him.
“He thought his action figure was Oscar,” Traffic Sergeant Rod Duckwitz said. “It was a very positive experience and we were able to connect with the community over this action figure.”
“We thought, hey, if we had a mascot we might be able to do more community engagement to promote our events. And out of that, ultimately, Oscar el Oso was borne,” Duckwitz said.
Oscar el Oso was funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety and made his debut in October 2017 at a car seat checkup event, followed by a visit to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).
“As soon as he walked out, all the kids, all the toddlers, they all just looked over and pretty much ran to him for pictures,” Traffic Office Administrator Karla Santillan said.
Oscar has evolved over the past year, adding sunglasses, a bicycle helmet, a reflective vest, and a Halloween costume to wear to various events such as the Anaheim Fall Festival, Halloween Parade, and National Night Out.
“Oscar is very gregarious and friendly,” Duckwitz said. “He’s good with adults and kids. He’s very engaging. It’s worked very, very well for us in a lot of different settings.”
The Anaheim Police Department included Oscar in its online public service announcements that seek to educate people about safety issues, said Lt. Lorenzo Glenn, who oversees the program.
“One thing that we want people to know is that we want them to be safe and anything that we can do to help educate and train them, we’re willing to do,” Glenn said.
Recently, the department developed two coloring books for Oscar to share with his adoring fans, with pedestrian and bicycle safety themes.
“Oscar has been right at home here in the traffic bureau,” Duckwitz said. “It’s been a very valuable tool for us to get our message across in a humanizing way…Oscar, among other things, really helped us to open people’s minds and be more receptive to what we’re doing.”
While people might be apprehensive about talking to a police officer, Oscar is a perfect icebreaker and makes people feel comfortable at the many community events he attends with his sworn partner, usually an officer or sergeant from the Traffic Section.
“It becomes an interaction of people, not an interaction of an officer with the person,” Santillan said.
Oscar’s next scheduled appearance is in December, when he’ll join in the fun at the annual Shop with a Cop event, which pairs kids in need with officers as they use donated funds to shop for the holidays.