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New Reno Police Chief on homelessness, officer mental health and community policing

Kathryn Nance is dressed in business attire and smiling in front of a window. Through the window, part of Reno is visible, including buildings, an overcast sky, and a letter sculpture that reads “BELIEVE” with the Truckee River flowing behind it.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Reno City Council unanimously confirmed the city manager’s nomination for Kathryn Nance to lead the Reno Police Department on Jan. 11, 2023, at Reno City Hall.

The former deputy chief of the Stockton Police Department, Kathryn Nance, will be sworn in as Reno’s chief of police in February, and she’s the first woman to lead the department. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck spoke with Nance about her policing vision.

Lucia Starbuck: How do you propose to make the community safer? 

Kathryn Nance: I think that a lot of that’s gonna go back to that data-driven policing and the deployment models. Police departments are very good at keeping information. We have all kinds of stats and data and information about everything. It’s compiling it into usable documents and then diving into saying, “Why? Why is this happening?” and then “How do we impact how that violence is being driven?”

Starbuck: Coming out of 2020 and the unrest that came during that time period, people are a little bit distrusting of police. How will you ensure people are treated equally? 

Nance: I think that the biggest part of that is working with the officers and training and holding people accountable. So, if there are issues of trust and issues of misconduct or problems, we have to hold our officers and ourselves accountable every day. But to build that trust, it’s about transparency. It’s about coming forward and saying, “Hey, these are the things that we do. This is why we do ‘em. This is what happened in your neighborhood. This is the result of the complaint you made. This is how we are rectifying problems that you helped us identify.”

Starbuck: There’s a large number of people experiencing homelessness who say they don’t feel comfortable going to a shelter, so they sleep in an encampment or in a park after hours. How do you balance their experiences and potentially breaking the law? 

Nance: It’s a fine line, and it’s really about what other resources can we give? If you can’t go to a shelter, what can we do for you that’s different? Where can you go that’s gonna make you safer and not subject to being, you know, frozen or cold, or to a place where the police are gonna have to come do enforcement on you because somebody’s gonna call the police and say that you can’t be in that area? And so there’s this, like, navigation with no real solution to it. The more knowledge that the officers have, that our public has and the city has about what programs are out there and how they can help people get into those programs, that’s how we’re gonna be more successful because you have to have a wide variety to help a wide variety of people.

Starbuck: How can you support officer mental health? 

Nance: I think a lot of that is just having open, honest communications and allowing the feelings and emotions to exist in the world where they already exist. In 1996, when I got hired by the police department, there was no emotion attached to it. It didn’t matter what you did or where you went to or how stressful a call was – you just handled it, and you went back on the street, and mental health was never talked about. And now, you know, people are dealing with the repercussions of that later on in their lives ‘cause they found a way to mitigate that when it happened and occurred. There’s so many better studies now on PTSD and the impacts of trauma and violence on people in general, but a lot of times, we don’t put that same emphasis on the officers that are seeing the same thing. And so, for me, a lot of that starts with that open communication.

Starbuck: What are some recruiting and retaining methods you want to see? 

Nance: For recruitment to be successful in an organization, we have to recruit and diversify our recruitment. We have to have a means out there and a way for everybody, anybody that could potentially want to work for the police department, to feel that this is a department that they’re welcome in. And so, that means that when we’re public, our face of the department looks like the faces of our community. And so that we have people, depending on what walk of life they’re in, and what their beliefs are or their gender, doesn’t matter – we want people in our organization, and we have a spot for pretty much everybody.

Starbuck: What does community policing look like to you? And is that something you want to do? 

Nance: Absolutely. And I think that community policing is such a big word, and it’s such a big, open topic of so many things that we can do. It’s really looking at what does our communities need to feel safer and do they feel safe when the police arrive? Do they feel safe in calling the police? And if we’re lacking in those areas in different communities, we have to start building that safety and building that trust, so they do feel confident when they call the police, they’re gonna have an outcome that’s agreeable to them in some way, even if it results in enforcement, that they’re gonna be more willing to call the police later. The other side of that is having our officers out there integrated with our community, part of events, part of organizations, knowing that we are doing things to help our communities thrive and grow.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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