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Gold Hill chief polishes up dusty old gear

GOLD HILL - Throughout a 30-year law enforcement career in Nevada sheriff's departments and prisons, Rod Countryman envisioned he would one day retire to a small community and start his own department from scratch.

After two weeks of digging through outdated equipment, unearthing a police car from storage and wondering if a police badge ever existed, it appears his vision has come true.

The 51-year-old started his new career as the Gold Hill police chief April 1, giving this community of 1,073 its first municipal police presence in two years.

The police department was closed in September 2000 over liability issues and personnel problems, leaving the city with emergency-response-only coverage from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Countryman's $40,000 annual salary is included in the city's public safety budget. But the possibility of additional officers and some reservists depends on the May 21 election, in which voters will decide on whether to fund a police levy of $54,000 annually for five years.

Until then, the California native is taking things one day at a time - and searching for the things he needs to do business.

"It's been exciting trying to find things," Countryman says. "Everything you find, it's a matter of whether or not you can use it. I found three new citation books and thought I'd lucked out but they were outdated.

"There's an old computer," he adds, "but when it got down to it, well, no one uses five-and-a-quarter-inch floppies anymore."

Until Countryman's new uniform comes in, his professional attire consists of either his FBI Academy shirt or a button-up shirt and tie.

His citation book, a present from the Phoenix police chief, has "Phoenix" scribbled out and "Gold Hill" written in.

Though he may not be sporting a badge just yet - one is on order - Countryman does have a gun, a cleaned-up patrol car and the bearing of a policeman who is very qualified to read someone his rights.

But business has been anything but usual since he settled into his small quarters at the back of City Hall in a building shared by the library.

On his first week on the job, he gave interviews to news crews, discovered the alarm at City Hall (by setting it off) and determined which of three patrol cars was most salvageable. One was burned by vandals last year and one has yet to be located. The third, a '92 Chevy Caprice now referred to as "the unit," was outfitted with fresh tires and a new battery.

In lieu of additional officers, Countryman's help has been city workers.

"The fellas from Public Works came through for me big time," he says. They helped get his car running and cleaned off two years of dust with pressure hoses at the wastewater treatment plant.

While a lack of air conditioning has yet to be addressed, "the unit" helps Countryman create a police presence as he patrols his one-square-mile territory.

"Whenever I'm out, someone usually comes up to introduce themselves or let me know about something," he says. "Everyone seems to be glad that I'm here. Hopefully, we'll come up with a badge sooner or later and I can be in uniform. So far everything's been real positive.

"People tell me that it's quite obvious I'm in town because people are stopping (at stop signs) that didn't used to. But then again, at every intersection I've been up to, people have all stopped," he adds with a smile.

"Of course, 'the unit' does kind of stand out a little bit."

Leslie Durand, Gold Hill mother of three, says traffic has slowed down near local schools since Countryman - who starts his day watching out for students - reopened the department.

"He hasn't been here very long, but I think he's going to do a great job," she says. "He seems very personable, and it's great to have some law enforcement again. I don't think we have a real crime problem, but there's a lot of little vandals running around and small issues. I think he'll probably take care of that."

Countryman says for business owners, vandalism and graffiti seem to top the list of concerns.

Don Morrow, owner of Morrow's Hardware, has had problems with vandals and was burglarized last year. He said having a local police force is a definite asset to the city "if done correctly."

"Obviously, if someone is local they can be more responsive, but then again, you can have 20 policemen and they can't completely stop it," Morrow says. "You can just hope the presence will do half the battle. I think he's going to do well, but I'm sure he's overwhelmed right now."

Alex Frum, owner of the Gold Hill Pharmacy, said his primary concern is shoplifters.

"I'm certainly glad to see the police force back in action," Frum says. "I've met Chief Countryman, and he has some real positive ideas to get some facilities for the youth and he's done some grant work in the past.

"It's nice to have a local resource to call on when there's a problem."

Countryman says he'll be working to alleviate problems of vandalism and theft and hopes the police levy will be passed in May to provide him with some help.

"It would help tremendously if there was an additional officer," he says. "I'm going to be looking at all the options, but right now I'm just going for the basic needs.

"Once that's all set up, I'll be looking at starting a neighborhood watch, a reserve program and trying to expand activities the best we can.

"I'm a great believer in not reinventing the wheel, so I'm talking with other departments to see how they do things, too. Right now I'm just trying to piece it all together."

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at.

Gold Hill chief polishes up dusty old gear