Little Big Town: Valley Police Department, 1985 through 1993
…And this was only my first few weeks!

At first, my Father was not supportive of my decision to go into Law Enforcement. He grew up with or knew people who became cops, and while they were honest and honorable men, they were very gruff, very tough, and could be best described as hard cases. He said that I was “too nice of a guy” and that I might be too sensitive for the job. In short, he feared it would tear me to pieces! After I’d been on the job for awhile, he told me how proud he was of me, and observed how my leadership skills, organization of thought, and sensitivity had made me an outstanding police officer. He also told me that he was relieved that I chose to work in suburban or rural environments instead of the big city…

It’s interesting to see how law enforcement officers from other areas of the United States perceive how police work must be like in suburban or rural Nebraska. Right off the bat, they think that your environment was like Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney, where the sheriff did not need a weapon, and his deputy only needed one bullet. From their perspective, anything we did could never compare to, or be as difficult to what they’ve experienced in the larger cities.

One cop I talked to after I moved to Kansas City once remarked, that my job was probably like the Sheriff of Cabot Cove on the television show, Murder, She Wrote. I suggested the following points to consider: Cabot Cove is a small town of 5,000 inhabitants or less. They have one law enforcement officer; the sheriff for that entire community. Most importantly, in the television show, they seem to have a murder every week! Taking all this into consideration, the jurisdiction of Cabot Cove appears to have the most violent crime rate in the nation! Clearly the lone Sheriff of Cabot Cove has more than his work cut out for him!

But let’s get back to reality. Every small jurisdiction across the country, to one extant or another, has to deal with the same percentage of crime as any other jurisdiction in the US, and they typically have to deal with that crime with fewer resources! Ideally, the optimum ratio is one officer per 1,000 in population. Typically, the number of command officers as well as line officers is included in that accounting. When I worked in Western Nebraska, the next closest officer to back me up might be thirty or more minutes away. For the most part, you’re all alone! On your own! You’re it!

Admittedly, urban crime is somewhat different than rural crime. We did not have as many issues with urban gangs, but the gang bangers would come to visit from time to time as they expected only Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney to deal with them. (Yeah… Everyone has that stereotype in the back of their mind…) In the mean time, we still had rapes, robberies, thefts, frauds, and drugs. We also had domestic disturbances, assaults, and suicides. While we had murders nearby, and our agency participated in the investigations, we were lucky that we had no murders specific to Valley, Nebraska while I worked there. We did have an airplane crash nearby! You don’t see that every day!

There is one dynamic we had that typically our brother and sisters in urban law enforcement did not have to deal with as often. While I worked all over the place, sometimes in Omaha and other locations in Douglas County, my area of Primary Responsibility was the City of Valley, Nebraska. At the time, Valley had a census population of just over 2,000 inhabitants. The territory of its corporate limits covered less than one or two square miles. While an urban officer might be assigned to a district of about the same size in terms of territory and people, he or she may not be assigned the same district every evening, let alone the same duties each day. For a small town cop, you patrol the same area every day and every night, and you deal with the same people daily.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Formally, this is known as “Community Policing.” You get to know all the business people running their shops. You’re acquainted with all the clergy in town, and many of the teachers at the schools. With that, you learn to recognize when something is wrong or out of place. You also get to know the “usual suspects.” You know who the trouble makers are, and for the repeat offenders, you learn to recognize their work, or “Method of Operation…”

Where this can be particularly difficult, is it can be hard to stay disassociated, or detached. You get to become friends of many of the good people you’re serving. As an example, take the person who runs the local convenience store. You see him or her at least once per shift. You get to know this person and their spouse and their two or three children who pop into the store from time to time while you’re there. You share stories with them about mutual interests and family. Then one afternoon, you have to knock on their door to officially inform that person and their kids that while on their way home from work, their spouse was involved in a traffic accident, and it is your sad duty to inform him/her that he/she is dead. I’ve had to do this on at least four occasions during my career where I knew the victim. Trust me! This is difficult to do even if you’ve never met this person before, but when this is a member of your community, whom you’ve gotten to know as a real, tangible person it hurts badly!

Its one thing to be empathetic, but it’s very difficult when you come to see the not only the triumphs but the tragedies that occur to the people you know. It’s also harder to have to investigate, and get into the details of some of the issues these people have had to endure. Do you really want to know all the personal details and proclivities of the lives of your friends?

Valley, Nebraska is not the typical, small Nebraska town. Most small towns in the State are based on an agricultural economy. Most of the business in such towns support that industry like grain elevators; implement dealers, tool and hardware stores, a service station and a convenience store. Depending on the size of the town, there might be one or two bars or a café. Valley was different. It was more of a blue collar or factory town with a large portion working at Valmont Industries, or other manufacturers in the area. There were seven licensed liquor establishments, either bars or carry out, with several others very nearby. The town had always been known as a tough town, or someplace that was a good place to get into trouble!

Valley is situated in Western Douglas County, and is considered to be a suburb of Omaha, which is the County Seat. All of our cases were heard in the County or District Courts of Douglas County, as Nebraska did away with Municipal Courts in the early 70’s.

To the east of Valley, was the unincorporated area of King Lake, which once upon a time was a recreational community. By the 1980’s the homes or “cabins” as they were called, consisted of tar paper shacks and dilapidated homes. There were some nice homes there, but they were few. Many of the residents were outlaw bikers, thieves, and dope dealers. King Lake had its own tavern, but it was well known to be a dangerous place where outsiders were not welcome. We were dispatched to King Lake quite often to back up Sheriff’s Deputies, normally for something violent.

On the other side of Valley was Ginger Cove. A very exclusive lake side community which was home to many local and national business leaders who owned or worked for companies with names that many in the country would quickly recognize. While this neighborhood was not typically violent, we’d often be dispatched in to quell large parties or keggers being held by wealthy teens or college kids. If a property crime had occurred, such as a burglary or a theft, it was always something very expensive!

We had a very close relationship with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office who provided Communications and Dispatching, Crime Scene Services, and on request Criminal Investigation resources if needed. We all carried Commissions as Sheriff’s Deputies and we backed up each other frequently. When needed, prisoners were booked at the Sheriff’s Booking Office, and held by the Douglas County Department of Corrections at Omaha.

When I started at Valley, we basically ran two shifts. A Day Shift: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM and an Evening Shift : 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM. After awhile, we ran the normal three shifts, A Shift: 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM, B Shift: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and C Shift: 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. One year, during the summer months, we had a D Shift which ran 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM to provide two officers on patrol during the time of peak activity. I normally worked A, C, or D Shifts. In the beginning, we had one Chief and two Full Time Officers. By the time I moved on, we had a Chief, three Full Time Officers, three Part Time (fully certified) Officers and three Reserve Officers. While no one specifically held the title of Criminal Investigator, each full time officer was charged with investigating his case load based on his abilities and specialties. Assistance could be obtained from other officers, or as stated above, assistance could be obtained from Sheriff’s CID.

When I first started at Valley, the priority issue was to mitigate alcohol and drug abuse. Get a handle on these issues, and many other issues will be resolved downstream! The town clearly had a severe alcohol abuse problem which included many of the local teens. While most areas where I’ve worked, we might issue one or two arrests per month for Minor in Possession of Alcohol, (MIP,) the first two years at Valley it was not uncommon to issue ten to fifteen citations per week for MIP by each of the two officers working evenings! At first, these kids were so cavalier as to tip a toast to the cop with their beer as they drove by. That changed in a hurry!

One night during my second week there, a drunk adult male walked onto the city hall driveway, with his beer to complain about the escapades of his ex-wife. I asked him to set his beer aside or take it home, whereupon he laughed and started drinking it. I flipped the beer out of his hand with my night stick, sending it spinning skyward before I arrested him! He walked home with his empty beer can and his citation cursing me and calling me a “Fu**ing New York Cop!”

Late one Saturday Night a few weeks later, I’m visiting with a railroad worker near the Union Pacific Depot when a car comes northbound through downtown at an estimated 50 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. He’s going so fast that when he crosses the railroad tracks he bottoms out, throwing sparks, and continuing on to run the traffic signal at US-275! I give chase in the Chief’s brand new patrol car, and while he was out of sight around a curve, his car slid sideways into a telephone pole and continued east for about a quarter mile where his car dies. I walk up beside this drunk’s car where he thinks he’s still driving! He about jumps out of his skin thinking I’m keeping up with him on foot! I get him out of his car to run a few field sobriety tests, which he fails. As I’m cuffing him, he goes bezerke! The fight is on, while I’m trying to call for help on the radio. Fortunately, an astute and experienced Communications Operator at the Sheriff’s Office who can only hear, “Ap-oop-ig-poot!” sputtering across the radio recognizes that an officer needs assistance and starts toning out a Help an Officer Call to all who can respond! Like I said before, until now, I’d been working in Western Nebraska or much smaller areas where back up was a long way off. I’m now in Douglas County where within a minute or two of the tone going out, I have two officers, one from Waterloo PD, and a Sheriff’s Deputy on scene with more on the way!

During the fight with this subject, he was smacked down over the hood of the patrol car and told to stay down. Yet he kept coming back up, fighting for more! This went on until the other officers arrived and we were able to get this animal under control. But… We now had a number of dents in the hood of the Chief’s new patrol car… I summoned the Chief from his home to come look at the damage. He looks at it from all angles under the street lights, while I’m sweating it out. Finally he says, “Well, if you got to hit them over the head with the car to bring them in, I guess that’s what you’ve got to do!”

And this was only my first few weeks!

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