On a typical day at Hoover Dam, it is not unusual to observe tourists peering at the world-famous structure through sunglasses. The sunglasses worn by Hoover Dam police officers provide the same view of the dam, which lies on the Arizona-Nevada border, but with a different perspective.
The dam falls under the jurisdiction of the Hoover Dam Police Department (HDPD), which operates under the authority of the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation. From headquarters on the Nevada side of the dam, current Chief Rich Melim, who reports to William Chesney, chief of security and law enforcement for the bureau, oversees the department's officers, who patrol this major tourist attraction with wary attention. While the department's service area does not include a traditional community, the staff is impacted by the proximity of the dam to Las Vegas.
Although trained and prepared for nearly any situation that could arise, these federal police officers are most commonly confronted by a need to control and minimize traffic congestion. This is not surprising, considering that more than 1.2 million visitors are attracted annually to the sire, in addition to 3 million vehicles-from bicycles to heavy-duty 18-wheelers-that cross the dam each year, negotiating steep inclines, hairpin turns and distractingly scenic beauty.
Former Chief Ron Bayer, recently named regional security officer, said problems associated with traffic control at Hoover Dam can multiply whenever a film crew is shooting at the site. The dam has had "cameo appearances" in at least 100 movies and TV programs.
Chief Melim and Bayer are graduates of the FBI National Academy. Other members of the force are veteran police officers, and have undergone training at the federal police training academy in Glynco, Ga. Nearly all have attended training courses presented by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and participate in ongoing weapons training at the HDPD's pistol range.
Although armed with typical police equipment, the tool the officers most often rely on to quell a situation is their knowledge and practical use of "people skills." "Dealing with a lost person is one thing," the chief said, but on a hot desert day, "correcting a misunderstanding can be the first step toward getting a visitor's anger under control."
Chief Melim and his officers maintain an ongoing awareness regarding the security of the dam against those who would attempt to harm the dam or its visitors for attention and promotion of their cause. But, if the need for outside assistance should ever arise, operational relationships with the FBI as well as other local law enforcement entities help to ensure the security of the dam and its visitors.
Chief Steve Leon is a public affairs specialist in the Bureau of Reclamation's External Affairs Office in Boulder City, Nev.