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Washoe Tribe Police builds community through outreach

by Caryn Haller
challer@recordcourier.com
Jordan Burtt, 9, drives the drunk driving cart Saturday at the Dresslerville gym as part of Youth Awareness Day.
Caryn Haller |

Wearing goggles to simulate driving with a .20 blood alcohol content, Jordan Burtt pedaled his go cart over orange cones, and came close to hitting a spectator or two.

The 9-year-old Dresslerville resident took advantage of one of the many interactive booths available during the 17th annual Youth Awareness Day on Saturday at the Dresslerville gym.

“It was hard to see. There were two cones, and I didn’t know which one to drive through,” Jordan said of having blurred vision. “If this was real life, and I actually did drive drunk it wouldn’t be fun.”

Sponsored by the Washoe Tribe Police Department, the event included presentations on drug abuse, Rite of Passage guest speakers and informational booths from Tahoe Youth & Family Services,

Head Start, Juvenile Probation Department, Nevada Division of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Department of Transportation.

Washoe Police Chief Richard Varner said the purpose of the event was to provide educational information focused on drug awareness and prevention, as well as build relationships.

“We want them to see us as someone other than an officer who arrives when something bad is happening. We want to build a relationship with the community,” he said. “We want to have them trust law enforcement where they will be willing to share information with us.”

Dressed in casual white T-shirts with no badges or weapons also made the officers look less menacing and more approachable, Varner added.

“We’re not the bad guys,” he said. “If they can get to know us as people, then if something bad does happen, they’ll feel comfortable with us.”

As a mother of a teenage daughter, Elvira McDonald, 33, found the informational booths helpful.

“The law enforcement booth had information on teen dating violence, and that really hit home with me,” the Dresslerville resident said. “It’s cool that everybody’s involved with this event. One of the main things I like is they have all of our community here.”

Helon, a 17-year-old Rite of Passage student said he hopes the student speakers will help someone else make better decisions than he did.

“If they see how I went, maybe they won’t follow. Once I started doing bad things it put me in bad situations like gangs,” he said. “I lost my sister and older brother to gang violence, so to help somebody not do that is good. I wouldn’t want somebody else to feel the way I do.”

Running the lights and siren from inside a Washoe Tribe police car, Zander Smokey playfully called people out over the loud speaker.

“It feels good being in the front seat,” he said, “but I don’t want to go in the back seat.”

His mother, Filomena agreed.

“It’s good for kids to have a good relationship with law enforcement,” she said. “Then they won’t be scared, and will have a good rapport with them later in life.”

Washoe bicycle patrol officer Ruby Fox watched as a group of children navigated through an obstacle course.

The course taught young riders how to maneuver around obstacles in the road while maintaining their lane, look for oncoming traffic and pedestrians and how to make safe lane changes.

“It was fun when I had to follow the crazy eight. I get better every time,” 9-year-old Olivia Arcos said after her fourth time through. “I learned to look left, right, left. I ride my bike a lot and always wear a helmet so I can be safe and not get hurt.”

Fox hoped the children would learn from the course.

“We see a lot of kids not wearing helmets and not paying attention. Even though the speed limit is 15 mph, people do still speed,” she said. “If we can educate kids to be more aware than it’s a preventative measure for any kind of accident. No one wants to see a kid get hurt.”

Roseann Kizer has been coming to Youth Awareness Day since her 9-year-old son was a baby.

“It’s a good event for the kids to get them out and give them something to do,” she said. “It’s also a good idea to get kids out to interact with law enforcement in a positive way and not just when something bad is going on.”

Youth Awareness Day rotates between Woodfords, Stewart, Carson and Dresslerville every year.

Along with the activities, it included a free barbecue and raffles sponsored by Carson Valley Inn and other Valley businesses.