A day in the life of a Reno Police officer downtown

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- Fighting crime in Reno begins at many levels. One rests with the interactions police develop with the people they meet every day.

Officer Dan Knight keeps this in mind as he walks the streets and trails in the downtown area. He makes a conscious effort to say hi to everyone he meets, but he also tries to remember each individual especially in the homeless population. His goal is to satisfy their basic needs before they lead to criminal activity.

Knight says the two most common crimes in downtown Reno are aggressive panhandling and open containers. These crimes are more prevalent during spring, summer and fall when it's more comfortable for the homeless population to sleep outside. Police officers like Knight try to curb these problems with outreach. "Homelessness is not a crime," he said.

Roughly five minutes into his patrol he finds a homeless couple and their dog nestled near a fence in a quiet industrial area. It's filled with trash except immediately around their small makeshift shelter made of blankets and bags. The two used trash bags to clean as much as possible, but despite their work weeds and loose dry dirt and rough rocks scatter the ground where they're staying. It's their trade-off for some sense of privacy.

"Did you guys stay here last night?" Knight asks.

"Yes we did," the homeless woman sighs.

"OK. OK. Why don't you stay at the shelter? Because you got a dog? Is that the only reason?" Knight asks.

"Pretty much, yeah," the couple responds.

"We've been here for two weeks and it feels like two years," the homeless woman said with a strain in her voice.

"I can't imagine," Knight responds.

"You know that over there. You can go over there and get your breakfast, dinner, lunch," the officer continued.

"We go over there every day," the homeless man responds.

Officer Knight's main focus during his patrol is to develop relationships of trust with everyone he meets, but especially at-risk people. He opened his truck near this couple to reveal children's toys, "I have a lot of stuff. Especially for the kids. I keep balls. I've got some footballs and stuff."

He pulls out trash bags and gives them to the couple because they ran out during their efforts to clean their camp site.

They graciously say thanks and officer Knight moves on.

Minutes later he's walking on a trail along the Truckee River between Lake Street and East Second where the homeless often go to find more privacy. It doesn't take him long to find three men sitting by the River. They're hidden by a steep embankment and thick growth, but after a short walk down to the water's edge the men are face to face with each other.

"Are you guys staying on the street?" he asks.

"Yeah," they respond.

"I don't care. Is there anything we can do to help you out?" Knight asks.

The three say they're not staying at the shelter because they like the outdoors.

"Have you guys heard of HOPES?" the officer asks.

HOPES is a nonprofit community health center in downtown Reno. The men say they know and have used the service.

One man who calls himself "Accent" opens up about what he thinks of the Reno Police Department. "If the cops could lighten up a little bit, that would be pretty awesome," he said.

It's clear the homeless man sitting by the river and police officers want a positive relationship. Already, there are several interactions that could be making a difference. "Officer Bocchese and Officer Hallert on the bike team. They know me," said Accent.

According to Officer Knight's example, these simple interactions are a key to serving the public. It allows officers to help at risk people before their problems potentially grow into larger crimes.