One day late last fall, a woman in a hurry through Washoe Valley edged her big SUV right up behind the rear bumper of a blue Impala driving the speed limit in the left-hand lane.
With barely enough space to squeeze in front of a car in the next lane, she whipped around the Impala on the right, zoomed ahead and swung back into the left-hand lane. Just for good measure, she gave the Impala driver a one-finger salute out the window.
That's when the red and blue lights inside the Impala snapped on.
The woman found out the hard way she'd just flipped off Col. Chris Perry, head of the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Perry wears a uniform, not a suit, and, when he sees a driver "do stupid," stops and cites them. In fact, he said he averages a couple a week in his commute through Washoe Valley.
Riding someone's bumper, he made clear, will get you NHP attention.
"It's scary to have that kind of driver behind you."
He also backs up his troopers when they have a car pulled over and stops to help at accidents.
After 27 years with NHP, Perry still loves being a trooper. He says giving tickets from his unmarked car for egregious conduct on the roads serves a purpose.
"It keeps people honest when they know we're out there," he said.
And Perry doesn't hand off to his troopers the grunt work that comes after a ticket is issued.
"You catch 'em, you clean 'em," he said. "You go to court."
The Nevada Highway Patrol, he said, issues more than a quarter-million tickets each year. But it's not all negative. Just last week, Perry was seen changing a tire for a woman in Washoe Valley.
"The public service component, that's an important part of the job," he said.
Perry said training and experience are vital to the safety of his troopers and the public. Officers in the field are constantly reminded the guy they just stopped may be a drug mule or a felon. Or, he said, it could be some guy who just lost his job, has marital troubles and the traffic stop, "might be the thing that sends him over."
He said experience helps an officer learn to read people and deal with them fairly and appropriately. Those skills, he said, are most critical in rural areas.
"You get out on a rural duty post where your backup is two hours away, you learn a lot about people," he said.
Of particular danger is the growing drug trafficking problem: "Mexican drug cartels are using every one of our roads to transport illegal drugs."
The answer, Perry said, is the newly established drug dog program. He has five dogs working in Las Vegas and the Reno area with another in training. They already have found significant amounts of illegal drugs. He hopes eventually to station dogs with troopers in Winnemucca, Elko, Ely and Tonopah.
Perry has put all his command staff back in uniform, issuing tickets, and hired accountants, computer technicians and others to do the office work.
"I think the best decision I've made is to get the cops out of the business environment and hire people who were trained for it to do that," he said.
Perry said one of those civilian workers developed an electronic inventory system that, for the first time, can account for all the equipment troopers are issued. He said in the past, too much equipment disappeared over time because no one could track it.
He said those types of duties are his primary job as head of NHP " effectively, business administration and management of an operation with 639 employees, 475 of them sworn officers.
But he's still a trooper at heart: "When I leave this office to go home, I'm the police again. You can't just turn that off because you made rank."