Sparse population sparks need for more cooperation

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Southwest Nebraska is definitely rural, but it feels crowded to anyone who's lived in Nebraska's Sandhills.

As a recent Associated Press story pointed out, however, no one is lonelier than a law enforcement officer responding to a call in the distant dark of night.

Declining populations and tight budgets mean the situation is growing worse, and some departments have stopped responding to calls altogether and leaving stretches of highways unpatrolled for hours.

The story, by James MacPherson, cited Greeley, Nebraska, where a grocery store was burglarized, possibly by someone from out-of-town, someone who had the time to first try to steal the whole safe, and then to take the door off the safe.

And, although the population is thinning out in rural areas, the problems aren't. Cybercrimes allow criminals to reach rural areas as easily as cities, and the poor economy adds to domestic disputes and other problems.

The story quoted Gary Eng, formerly a Nebraska State Patrolman stationed in McCook, and now the sheriff of Thomas County, the lone officer in a department covering a 714-square mile county.

When three escaped convicts from Indiana came through his county last year, officers from other counties helped chase them down.

"You just can't have deputies out here, because there's no money, and it's only going to get worse," Eng told The Associated Press.

Perhaps some of the same technology that allows criminals to victimize rural residents can be used for law enforcement, web cams instead of cruisers, or even drones like those used in Afghanistan.

But like the new statewide radio system we discussed Wednesday in this space, thin law enforcement resources will more likely be reinforced through cooperation at all levels, from city to county to state.

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