White Pine law enforcement serves as a model for rest of Nevada
Taking a drive through Ely, it’s almost impossible to miss them. From the White Pine County Sheriff’s Department to Nevada Highway Patrol and Ely Shoshone Tribal police, the presence of local law enforcement is always visible.
It is a calculated tactic said White Pine Sheriff Dan Watts, one that adds to the safety that residents of White Pine County feel everyday. But maintaining that level of public safety and trust in a remote community is not something that comes easy.
According to Captain Scott Henriod, White Pine police officers face unique challenges being a part of a small rural department that bigger metropolitan police
forces don’t have to deal with.
“We don’t have special entities that we call upon to come and do special investigations or anything. We are responsible for the whole investigation, and that means making sure all of our officers are trained and kept up to date on their training,” Henriod said.
It’s a truth that extends beyond the Sheriff’s Department to other rural law enforcement in the county, such as Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP). Mike Gamberg, NHP Ely and Eureka District Commander, said that when one of his highway patrol officers pulls somewhere over on the long, isolated stretches of road that run from small town to small town, they could sometimes not have any backup for 45 minutes
meaning they too have to be well trained and prepared for anything that could happen.
“Rural officers have to be very good at what they do. If something happens, they can’t have five more officers backing them up in a handful of minutes like metro in Las Vegas can,” Gamberg said.
It’s a challenge inherent to the vastness of White Pine County. There is so much ground to cover that trying to effectively cover it all with the resources of one department is not feasible with the budgets and size of staff that each operates with. But when the departments work together, communicating and backing each other up, the scope of their responsibilities not only becomes more manageable, but makes it safer for the officers as well.
This is best seen in the relationship that has developed between the Sheriff’s Department and the Ely Shoshone Tribal Police Department. While tribal police officers have no jurisdiction on their own outside of tribal lands, the Sheriff’s Department has deputized their officers to help provide back up. Conversely, when the tribal police officers need assistance, the Sheriff’s Department officers are on call to return the favor.
According to Tribal Police Captain Roger Miller, the agreement between his department and the Sheriff’s department came into being in 2008 after a year of figuring out how to best make it work. Since that time, he said the effect has been noticeable.
“We are cross commissioned now with their department, meaning that when we need help, they show up and when they need help we show up. It has worked well and is good for officer and public safety because the more officers you have on a violent crime, the safer everybody is.,” Miller said.
The system has worked so well that it is now being used as a model for other Sheriff departments across the state and country.
“Dan [Watts] and myself have both been contacted by other jurisdictions. In April, we both went up to Idaho to speak with a department there to explain how our agreement has helped both sides. With all the cuts being made, especially man power cuts, this agreement is like having an extra person,” Miller said.
While there is no official agreement in place between the Sheriff’s department and NHP, Gamberg said that he has seen the two departments grow stronger in their enforcement as the two have begun communicating more than in the past.
“We have a really good working relationship with the Sheriff’s department,” Gamberg said. “We have a different opportunity here in White Pine County than most police do, and I’m glad we are working together to keep our officers safer and the public safe .”
According to Steve Dobrescu, a sitting judge at the County Courthouse, the efforts of the different departments to coordinate with each other have helped keep city and county residents feeling safe despite the ever evolving nature of crime.
“I’ve worked with the Sheriff’s Department in one capacity or another for about 29 years now, dating back to when I was a prosecutor and Deputy D.A. The type of crime that officers face these days has changed dramatically with the explosion of methamphetamine in this community. It’s a testament to the work they have done that you can go to any part of town at night and feel safe,” Dobrescu said.
The judge said that he was worried during the budgeting sessions of the County Commission that they were going to make cuts to the Sheriff’s Department. While cuts were in initial drafts of the budget, they were eventually removed before the final budget was submitted to the state for the next fiscal year.
“You can’t put a price on public safety. Feeling safe isn’t something that you can easily document,” the judge continued.
But the feeling of safety can only last as long as the public feels criminals are being brought to justice in the courts, and that is another area that has improved in recent years according to District Attorney Mike Wheable. Having served as a Deputy D.A. before being elected to the District Attorney’s office, Wheable said that he could tell there was a lack of trust on the police side of the coin that the people they were catching would eventually be brought to justice. That was a feeling he wanted to irrefutably repair the first day he became District Attorney. With a focused effort to work more closely with officers and a deemphasis on plea deals, he said that trust is coming back.
“Four years ago there wasn’t much of a relationship between the departments, the District Attorney’s office included. There has to be a balanced separation between them but there also needs to be a good team atmosphere. I feel like our relationship with law enforcement has reached its pinnacle now,” Wheable said.
“Once we started communicating better, we started to see better results. We are now getting meth users treatment while sending the sellers to prison.”
Wheable praised the work of the Sheriff’s Department, saying that he feels like the level of “professionalism” in the department now rivals that of major metropolitan operations. He cites their work, alongside his office, as a main reason that violent crimes are down in the area.
“It’s the little things that are necessary to maintain order, and together we’ve improved those little things,” he said.