ROCK SPRINGS — After a 31-year-long law enforcement career, Rock Springs Police Chief Dwane Pacheco is ready to turn in his badge.
Pacheco recently announced his retirement and his last official day will be May 11. Even though he’s ready for retirement and excited about the future, he couldn’t help but reflect on his law enforcement career, which spans over three decades.
While the Rock Springs native was still in high school, he enlisted in the Air Force. At that time he wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue, but he knew he wanted to serve his country.
After his high school graduation, Chief Pacheco was still uncertain of what career path he wanted to pursue out of the hundreds available. So when he arrived at the Air Force basic training without a career assignment, they quickly gave him one to meet their needs.
Who knew this decision would eventually lead to a 31-year career in law enforcement at the Rock Springs Police Department (RSPD)?
While at the Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, Pacheco was assigned as a law enforcement specialist. He was basically in charge of making sure laws, such as driving under the influence and traffic regulations, were being followed.
Pacheco then made his way to the Elwood Air Force Base in South Dakota for more in-depth law enforcement training. That’s when he started to develop a passion for the job.
“I just learned to appreciate the job,” Pacheco said.
He was on a drug-enforcement team for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He enjoyed this part of the career so much that he wanted to become an OCI agent. In an effort to obtain this position, he re-enlisted in the Air Force. In the meantime, he had already applied for police officer jobs in Gillette and Rock Springs.
It was a long process, but it paid off when he was offered a job at the RSPD under Chief Matt Bider. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force so he could take the patrol officer position. During his patrol training, Pacheco received the honor graduate award and was also recognized as the top shooter.
The Changing Career
Pacheco started out at the RSPD as a patrol officer. He remained in that position for 3 years before making his way into a detective’s position for the next 6 years. In 1996, he was promoted to Sergeant. He then returned to the patrol. In 2006, he was promoted to Commander.
“Up until then, I was doing a lot of investigations and arresting,” Pacheco said. “We investigated anything from kidnapping to homicide.”
Prior to being appointed as the police chief, Pacheco had joined the Air Force Reserves and continued his service through the Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. He retired from the reserves in 2007.
In 2014, he was appointed as the RSPD’s Police Chief after Mike Lowell retired.
That appointment to police chief was my long-term goal. There’s no way to describe what it’s like to start at your hometown and be promoted to police chief.~ Chief Dwane Pacheco
Over the years, Pacheco saw changes in the police department and within the community. When the Treatment Court of Sweetwater County was in the beginning stages, Pacheco supported the idea. He noticed some of the same people continued to get arrested for the same crimes over and over again. He referred to it as a “revolving door.”
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this,” Pacheco said.
Once the treatment court was up and running, it only confirmed what he believed.
“I was able to see the successes first hand of the people making it out of there,” he said.
This was a change at how the community, law enforcement, and the judicial system looked at a problem.
“There’s a lot of programming out there that can help people in that addictive situation,” Pacheco said.
Other changes Pacheco saw during his career was the closure of the RSPD jail and the opening of the Sweetwater County Detention Center. He also supported and assisted with the Sweetwater County Combined Communication Center. Mike Lowell was the RSPD Chief at that time, however former Chief Neil Kourbelas started the thought process behind the combined communications center, which Pacheco supported.
Duties as a Chief
“In this position, I’ve been motivated and energetic,” he said. “I don’t want to be a hinderance in others moving up.”
During his career as chief, Pacheco worked hard to improve communication not only within the office, but outside the office. He also made sure the whole department made short and long-term goals. One way to promote communication is by hosting open houses. This has allowed residents to not only see the department, but to visit with officers.
For most agencies, once the officer graduates from the academy, they only recite the oath of honor one time. Pacheco made sure this was recited each year to remind officers of the oath they take and how important it is to live by that oath.
Chief Pacheco has worked closely with other agencies as they formed to continue improving the community. One of those was developing a partnership with the Sweetwater County Prevention Coalition.
“I’m so passionate about what it brings to the community,” he said.
He said the prevention coalition really started to get going about four years ago after three suicides took place in one weekend. Pacheco said he contacted officials at the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, representatives of the Southwest Counseling Center, and other agencies to work together to offer Crisis Intervention Team trainings. So far, two trainings have been offered and interest is already growing quickly.
We have to come together as a community and tackle this issue.~Chief Dwane Pacheco
Chief Pacheco also learned that serving on state commissions and boards can be beneficial to Sweetwater County. For example: when Wyoming was creating WyoLink across the state, the western portion seemed to be left out. WyoLink provides communications for public safety and service agencies across Wyoming, within and outside of their home areas.
Pacheco worked with the state to ensure Sweetwater County received two towers for improved communication. One is located on the South Belt Loop and the other will be on 14-mile Hill. This allows officers to have portable radio coverage inside of buildings and in more remote areas, which has improved their safety and communication.
The chief also developed a partnership with Sweetwater County School District No. 1 to improve school safety through School Resource Officers (SRO) relationships and Standard Response Protocols. Pacheco said he is proud of the working relationship they have and how the district and the city split the costs of the three SRO 50/50.
“It’s really worked out well,” he said.
The partnerships don’t end there, as the department has also worked with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the Sweetwater County Events Complex to provide officers during the fair.
While Pacheco accomplished a lot during his career, he wasn’t able to complete everything on his long-term goal list.
One long-term goal that didn’t come to fruition was the construction of a new building. The current department was built in the 1970s and as the department has changed to investigate different crimes, the building has basically remained the same. However, they did redo the range, which was a great improvement.
“Things are outdated,” he said.
Pacheco is ready to move onto other things, but he’s hopeful the efforts he put in place to better community relations will still remain a focus of the police department.
“We have to be involved throughout the community,” he said.
Serving the Community
Pacheco is passionate about serving in the community as well. Here’s just some of the boards he’s served on and organizations he’s volunteered for.
Public Safety Communications Commission
Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police
United Way of Southwest Wyoming Executive Board
Wyoming Gaming Commission
Jackalope Jump for Special Olympics Wyoming
Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Wyoming