Deputy Aron Grumbles of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has been into reptiles and dinosaurs his entire life.
In fact, before he became a deputy in 2007, Grumbles owned Safari Exotics, which staged educational programs about reptiles at schools, birthday parties – you name it.
When Grumbles recently transferred to Mission Viejo Police Services as its newest school resource officer (SRO), his new boss, Lt. Quyen Vuong, came up with a great way to introduce Grumbles to the community – and for the community to get to know their local deputies better.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, Grumbles — assisted by his wife and two sons – enthralled more than 1,000 people with a hands-on demonstration starring about a dozen of the 40 creatures that live in a room in their home (except a tortoise, which roams the backyard).
After the “Reptiles and Ice Cream” event, held at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, guests were treated to ice cream – an appropriately cold treat after time spent with cold-blooded creatures.
“Reptiles and Ice Cream is a more hip version of Coffee with a Cop,” said Vuong. “When we engage with our community, our goal is to reach every demographic reflected.
“Some parents and kids may not like coffee, but everyone loves ice cream.”
Heather Malk and her husband, Manny, and 6-year-old son, Joshua, had a great time at Reptiles and Ice Cream.
They were able to get up close and personal with such creatures as a 17-foot reticulated python, geckos, a chameleon, and a 90-pound tortoise.
“It was a great way to get out and see all the different animals,” Healther Malk said. “He (Joshua) especially liked the tortoise.
“It was really nice to be able to interact with the explorers and deputies and for the children to see them not as scary police officers,” she added.
Plus, Malk said, Joshua thoroughly enjoyed his two servings of ice cream.
Vuong said the event was one of his agency’s most successful community engagement activities yet.
“We’re always striving to find new and fun ways to connect with our community,” Vuong said. “And we want (the community) to see that there’s more to us that strictly the enforcement of laws.
“Community policing is at its finest when everyone shares the same goal of enhancing public safety.”
Grumbles and his family – wife Ashley, and sons Rhett, 9, and Gauge, 7 — host reptilian education experiences for free, at venues ranging from churches to dojos, when the deputy is not working.
As was the case Saturday, Aug. 23, the most popular reptile in Grumbles’ menagerie turned out to be Tigger, the 17-foot python who weighs 120 pounds.
“She’s very docile,” Grumbles notes.
Part of the reason for showing his reptiles is so people can get over their fear of them, Grumbles says.
But it’s also about educating people what they’re getting into if they consider, say, buying a python. Grumbles says many python owners want to give them away when they grow beyond 10 feet.
One of the reasons he shut down Safari Exotics was he took in so many rescue reptiles he couldn’t afford to keep them all. He donated many to the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana and visits them to this day.
Grumbles says his sons love all the reptiles, but his wife of 15 years, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, “tolerates” them. He says having them around has made for a fun family dynamic.
“And especially since becoming an amputee in 2015 (due to an off-duty motorcycle accident), serving others has really helped me heal, and it’s been a privilege to do things like this,” Grumbles adds.