The Moapa Valley communities are fortunate among small, rural towns to have a police presence that is second to none. The Metro police officers of the Overton Resident Section are exemplary in their efforts.
As local residents, they understand, know and love their community. All of them are committed to keeping our towns safe and secure. Local Metro officers are also accessible and easy to talk to. They are our friends and our neighbors. They are generally a good example to our children. They are quick to lend a helping hand to people when needed. They are a protection to our homes and businesses. They are often first on the scene when disaster strikes or tragedy occurs. They give support when the community mourns. And they are there to have fun when we celebrate. In short, our Moapa Valley officers have always been the epitome of what good community policing ought to be.
It is interesting to note that, considering the small size of our community, there is an awful lot of policing going on. Indeed, when it comes to general police presence, our towns are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. There are several different law enforcement agencies whose territories all intersect right here in the Moapa Valley. So we see a lot of them all. Metro alone brings a large presence for a small town. That’s because the Overton Resident Section has to cover so much territory and must run a 24-7 schedule. But there is also Nevada Highway Patrol, the Moapa Tribal Police, BLM rangers and Park Service rangers – all rolling through and around our communities. Their collective efforts add up to a hefty police presence per capita, given the relatively low population we have.
Of course, that can be, and long has been, a windfall for local residents. It brings a sense of security that many of us take for granted. There has long been excellent relationships between the various officers and the bulk of the citizenry. This has led to a cooperative approach between police and residents, working together in keeping the community safe and peaceful. When all is in balance, we as locals can count our blessings for this advantageous arrangement.
But given just the wrong circumstances, this golden community law enforcement model could also present a serious down-side. Each of the local police squads are components of much larger agencies which justifiably must address the trends and ongoing problems of the overall region. So when policies and action plans, meant to combat urban problems, are mandated here in a rural setting, where those problems simply don’t exist, it can be a recipe for befouling that positive relationship between cops and communities. Urban-based performance measures, pushed upon our local officers from above, can become nothing more than an egregious solution desperately seeking a problem. That can pose a dangerous situation in law enforcement and can spell trouble for the generally-law-abiding public in a community.
For example, this edition of the PROGRESS includes a story about just such an unintended consequence. A well-intentioned, and probably much needed, initiative was hatched by Metro officials in Las Vegas to address the high traffic fatality rates in urban Clark County. Though this problem doesn’t really exist in the rurals, the expectations are still randomly applied to the Overton Resident Section as well. Our officers suddenly have to ‘toe the line’ and pull their fair share to keep the department-wide averages in line. And suddenly, over the past six months, we see the number of traffic citations issued by local Metro officers have more than doubled!
Now, it’s true that a lot of those extra tickets were issued to drivers on I-15. That is where they should be, of course, since that is where the fatalities really are. But let’s face it, the consequences of this initiative have also bled down into our communities. We hear the stories of local folks being pulled over and cited for things that are frankly kind of silly. Many of these incidents even come with an apology from the officer who regrets openly that he is being urged to write more tickets.
In the end, the increase in Metro citations, added to all of the other enforcement being done in our communities by NHP and other entities, has the potential to make local folks feel like they are getting way too much love from law enforcement. And it won’t be long before that positive relationship, that has always existed between the police and the people, might start to turn a bit sour. That would be a shame! And it would also certainly make life harder for all concerned.