Sheriff's Office is Y2K prepared

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MINDEN - The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has been preparing for the Year 2000 for more than 20 years.

Since the 1970s, the department has actively monitored the thousands of revelers who annually flock to Lake Tahoe's South Shore to ring in each new year. The celebration has grown over the years, and Dec. 31, 1999 could be the biggest ever: Sheriff Ron Pierini is expecting 60,000 people.

Pierini and his officers have adjusted their approach to managing the event over the years. They try to maintain a visible but non-confrontational presence, isolating and removing potential troublemakers early.

They work with the casinos to limit available alcohol, as well as bottles, cans and other containers that could turn into projectiles or weapons, and they coordinate with surrounding law enforcement agencies so everyone is using the same approach and following the same policies.

But New Year's Eve 1999 presents different issues. The switch to 2000 will probably mean more raucous partyers, in the Stateline area as well as cities throughout the region that don't normally host New Year's celebrations, so extra police officers aren't available from those neighbors. The change has also spawned uncertainty about how computers and the systems they operate will respond.

As a result, Pierini revamped his approach to the upcoming event. He formed a task force that includes all of the law enforcement agencies that will be involved, ranging from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department to the FBI. The task force has been meeting monthly to establish policies and strategies for handling everything from the routine fights and alcohol-related problems to the possibility of "mass casualties."

"It's been a lot of work, but once it's done, we can carry that scenario over with a few modifications from now on," said Pierini. "I feel very confident that all of us are on the same page."

Douglas County's Stateline administration building will be the site of a multi-agency command center that will include supervisors from all the involved agencies. In addition, all of the Douglas officers, paid or reserve, who work the New Year's event will undergo training and get specific instructions on how to handle the situations they may encounter.

"What we're doing is setting a strong policy on how we want the officers to react and what will truly need to be addressed," said Pierini. "We're doing everything possible to plan every scenario there is and be really proactive. We're taking it extremely seriously."

He is urging parents to keep their children out of the Stateline area, emphasizing it's "not an environment for young people." Though he estimated that 90 percent of the revelers are just seeking a good time, the 10 percent who cause trouble often fall into the 14-23 age group and are influenced by alcohol.

"We're going to do everything we can do to make it as safe an environment as we possibly can," said Pierini. "I think we've done a really good job."


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