To Serve and Protect: the challenges of policing in rural areas

10 News has an inside look with the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. - 10 News is getting to know more of the men and women who serve and protect our communities, visiting local law enforcement agencies so they can show how they do their jobs.

Members of the the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office explained how officers in rural parts of our area can face unique challenges.

Lieutenant Lucas Nester drove with reporter Tommy Lopez down Little Creek Road, a rural area near Giles County. Nester said officers can have problems finding the locations of their calls, in part because GPS technology and cell phone reception isn't always great there.

Their radios work, but they’ve had to ask to use phones in nearby houses, including one time during a standoff.

For Nester, who grew up in the area, there’s no group of people he’d rather protect. We watched as he stopped to help these kids, whose car had broken down.

"It takes it to another level," he said. "And then even with people I don't know, it still affects me because this is where I've committed my life to."

Most of the officers in the department grew up nearby. That includes Sheriff Mike Worrell, who took over this past summer, 20 years after starting with the department.

"We're fortunate in Pulaski," he said. "Our citizens, they're very supportive of us, for the most part." 

He said helping people is the most rewarding part of the job, whether it's saving a life or simpler.

"When you're able to stop and help somebody with directions or change a flat tire, the little things like that, those are the ones that really stick with you," he said.

There are certainly slow days but just a few situations can put a strain on the 47-member department.
Like one day last month during icy conditions.

"From 3-6 p.m. we had 25 motor vehicle crashes," Worrell said. "If you're not prepared for it, that really takes a toll."

For five days in March of 2015, one search took priority, ending with five-year-old Noah Thomas’ body being found after he went missing. Worrell says it was hard on everybody.

"The initial aspect of cases like those, they're team-oriented."

Departments all over the country were offering their assistance. Officers showed up that no one here even knew. How long their shifts were depended on how they were holding up.

"As long as they can be: 12, 14, 16 hours a day, go home, get sleep, come back. It's hard on them. It's hard on their families," he said.

Normally, there are up to five officers working 12-hour shifts to go on patrols.

Captain Daniel Johnson says covering the 330 square miles can be challenging.

"With those outer-lying areas sometimes it makes it difficult," he said.

Drive times can be 45 minutes when traveling between calls, particularly if they involve back roads.

Worrell says he’s happy to have the resources he does, although more manpower would be the best way to further help his department protect and serve.

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