Retired Winnemucca Police Chief Eric Silva’s experience with law enforcement came very early, as his father was a captain in the Yolo County California Sheriff’s Office (YCSO). His own first-hand introduction came at age 14, when his dad enrolled him in a police explorer program at YCSO that gave young people a chance to find out about a career in law enforcement by working there.
“I wasn’t particularly thrilled with being enrolled,” Silva said. “I guess my dad wasn’t too happy with my choice of friends and activities. I think he was worried about my direction.”
Although being a police explorer might not have been Silva’s choice, he did enjoy it. “I had a lot of fun and met a lot of really cool people,” he said. “When I got out of school, I’d ride the bus to the sheriff’s office substation and work with the sergeant, answering phones, entering information into the teletype.” The teletype was the precursor to NCIC — the National Crime Information Center.
Silva did that until he was 16 and then moved to New Mexico and finished high school; with regular after school jobs at a dairy, a drug store and reading meters for a utility company.
In the Navy
At 18, right out of high school, he joined the Navy. “My brother was in the Navy and it sounded good,” Silva said.
It was good. He stayed for 11 years, working as a weapons technician and said he really liked it.
“I still miss the camaraderie. The lifestyle really appealed to me. Being in the military fit me well.”
Silva’s last post was in Fallon, where he worked in military policing. He was also a reserve deputy for the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) while he was still in the military.
Civilian law enforcement
When his enlistment was up, Silva was hired by CCSO full-time and worked in the jail for some time but soon wanted a change.
“I wanted to work on the street and tested all over the state. Winnemucca was the first place that offered me a job,” Silva said. He started with WPD as a patrolman and attended High Sierra Police Academy in Reno, even though he’d already gone through the military police academy. “Military police work is a whole different creature from civilian law enforcement,” he said.
Silva spent 3.5 months in field training at WPD under officers Jeff Dawson, Rick Waldie and Andy Toth.
After 3.5 years in patrol, he became a detective. He tested for sergeant and achieved that rank in 2000. After four years working a graveyard shift, Silva was ready for the next change.
Winnemucca was having a lot of injury accidents in school zones around this time. At a staff meeting, Silva suggested having the department get a motorcycle. Chief Bob Davidson liked the idea and successfully went after a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety.
Silva went to motorcycle school — he’d always been a motorcycle enthusiast. “It was my dream job, the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “The year before we started using the motorcycle, 35 percent of the accidents in the city were in school zones. The year after, it dropped to one percent. A motorcycle can get through traffic and make quick direction changes — it’s very visible and great for traffic control,” Silva explained. “People became a lot more aware of school zones and things got better.”
Detective, Lieutenant, Chief
After the grant that supported his salary as a full-time motorcycle cop ended, Silva continued to use the motorcycle to work special events and patrol school zones, but also worked as a detective again.
“I loved it; I had a lot of cases,” Silva said. The most serious of those cases were homicides. He estimated there were four homicide cases and additional domestic violence cases involving homicide and suicide.
He was a detective sergeant until July of 2011, when he was promoted to Lieutenant. A short two months later, when Chief Bob Davidson left, Silva put his name in for the job of Winnemucca’s Police Chief. Bill Dalley was another applicant. Silva was chosen.
While considering who he’d like as his second in command, he called City Manager Steve West and Mayor Di An Putnam and asked how Dalley had done on the interviews. They said Dalley was fantastic.
Second in command
Silva called Dalley and offered him the job as his captain. Dalley said he’d like some time to think about it. Silva was willing to give him that but said, “He called me back 10 minutes later and accepted.”
Silva was glad to have Dalley’s input. “It was good to have someone from outside come in and take a look at where changes should be made that I might not see.” The two went to work immediately on things they saw needed to be done.
“Bill is a work horse; he goes 100 miles an hour all day,” Silva said. “He definitely had a lot of input in all the planning and changes we made.”
They focused on technology, starting with an electronic report management and record keeping system. They added mobile data terminals in the cars. Justice Assistance Grant money helped augment the budget.
Silva had everyone in his department attend customer service training offered through POOL/PACT, the city’s insurance carrier. “That was one of the kinds of training we implemented that was different than the usual things done in the past,” Silva said.
Winnemucca Domestic Violence Services (WDVS) knew Silva was a defensive tactics instructor and was the center manager for the Tae Kwon Do Martial Arts School. They asked Silva to offer self defense for women. He agreed and WPD officers ran the classes.
When a detective sergeant left WPD, Silva received permission from the city council to replace that sergeant’s position with a lieutenant position. He and Mayor Putnam interviewed several people.
“After the interview with Pam Coats, the mayor said she didn’t see any reason to look further; I agreed,” Silva said. “I had known Pam from when she worked at WPD before she went to the state. She is a top-notch law enforcement officer and person.”
In another change to the command structure, Silva promoted Dalley to Deputy Chief about a year before he decided to retire.
“He’s always been a star player; he gets things taken care of right now,” Silva said. “When we went through budget cuts, he helped figure out how to make things work; I always knew he would make a good chief.”
Silva’s last day on the job was Oct. 4, or “10-4,” the radio response that means all is well.
Silva’s wife, Julie, is excited to have him retired. “She has been awesome, very supportive of my law enforcement career,” Silva said, adding, “Being a cop’s wife isn’t easy; when I’ve had bad days she’s always been there.”
Silva’s retirement future starts with three months of vacation, followed by a job doing executive protection for a California company run by a buddy who retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. Silva will work eight to 10 days a month in California and spend the rest of the time in Winnemucca. “I get to be retired and still have a job,” he said.