Wide-open country, beautiful forests, deep canyons, hundreds of miles of roads, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center (Bison fossils), historic Coffee Ranch, large cattle industry, open-range grazing, a quaint cowboy town, friendly residents, variety of wildlife, elevation 4,877 feet, bordered by Wyoming and South Dakota, and, at 69 miles long and 30 miles wide, one of the larger Nebraska counties — this is Sioux County, Nebraska.
The man who enforces the law in this big, diverse and rural county is Sheriff Chad McCumbers. Like all sheriffs, McCumbers has great law enforcement powers.
McCumbers came from biochemistry to law enforcement in 2007, he said.
“I was a biochemist with Streck Labs and GeneSeek Labs in eastern Nebraska, then relocated to the western end of the state, opened a retail gun-sales store in Morrill and helped the Morrill Police Department before moving to Sioux County to be a deputy and now the elected sheriff,” McCumbers said.
“Biochemists are employed in urban areas mostly, but I am much happier in rural areas, especially being a sheriff in a rural county,” he said. “I love law enforcement in Sioux County because of the people, the wide-open space, and every day is different.”
“The role of a metropolitan sheriff is primarily administration, whereas a rural sheriff does everything — from patrolling to administration to serving papers to civil service to taking calls off-hours, and all other aspects of county law enforcement,” he said.
It keeps the job interesting, he added.
McCumber’s primary motive for rural law enforcement is “someone needs to be here to enforce the law,” he said.
If a community is to maintain a certain standard, someone has to be the law, he added.
McCumbers has two deputies to help enforce the law in Sioux County: Chief Deputy Shawn Noon and Deputy Greg Taylor. Taylor helps with all aspects of county law enforcement, but focuses on traffic enforcement.
Noon also assists with all areas of county law enforcement, but enjoys file organization, investigation and research.
“Our three-man team is competent in all areas of law enforcement, but each of us likes to do certain things,” McCumber said.
McCumbers himself currently focuses on serious investigations.
“We are the investigative arm of the County Attorney,” he said.
McCumbers and his deputies deal with many things in the county.
“The number of things we deal with here is incredible,” McCumbers said. “Past call volume based on incident sheets was 100 a year, but this year we’re already at 76.”
Some of these incidents are serious.
“Domestics are way up,” he said. “We’re also seeing lots of theft and some child abuse.”
Drugs are present, but they’re not a serious problem, in part because of the comprehensive Western Nebraska Intelligence and Narcotics Group (WING).
The Sheriff’s Office also responds to vehicle accidents in the county, which sometimes can be a challenge if multiple accidents occur.
“I’ve had a vehicle accident at the northeast corner of the county and something happened down at the southwest corner by Henry, and it took 2.5 hours to respond due to weather,” McCumbers said.
Thankfully, other agencies often help in such cases, he added.
“Due to the wide variety of animals and wildlife in the county, vehicle accidents range from deer to elk to bighorn sheep to antelope to porcupine to cattle and others. Bighorn sheep crossing signs are not there for entertainment,” he said.
The Sioux County Sheriff’s Office prepares for unthinkable things as well, like terrorism and human trafficking. “
We participate in terrorism task forces because things stand out here, and U.S. Highway 20 is a human trafficking transport lane,” McCumbers said.
Simply patrolling the county is a challenge too.
“It takes a deputy an entire shift to cover every road in just 1/3 of the county,” he said. “We’re a small staff, and can do only what we can."
In days past, many Sheriff’s offices were assisted by volunteers, or reserve deputies. Small departments depended on this reserve force.
“The state changed the way we can use reserves; it now requires a lot of training time, which costs a lot of money, so people are less interested in doing it today,” McCumber said.
Sheriffs can still use reserves, but in our modern, litigious society it’s probably not wise to use them unless absolutely necessary, he added.
Law enforcement officers are always prepared and ready to respond to calls, but the busiest season for the officers of the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office is the end of summer, McCumbers said. Hunting season is also busy, he added.
“Thankfully, most people are law-abiding,” McCumbers said.
The residents of Sioux County are good people, he added.
Rural law enforcement looks somewhat different than city law enforcement.
“Here, we interact with residents every day. I have daily interaction with many people."
McCumber is conscious of the fact the person he deals with the night before might be the person he’s in a meeting with the next day or eating across the table from, he said.
“I have to live with the people.”
This means enforcing the law in a way that respects both the office and the public, he added.
McCumber’s advice to rural sheriffs is simple: “Remember you must live with the people. I have found that being as active as possible in the community, including the school, is very helpful."