Life on the force
November 30, 2005
Come the end of December Truckee police Lt. Jeff Nichols will no longer be a cop.Except that Nichols, who is on the verge of retirement, doesn’t quite see it that way.”Once you’re a cop, you’re always a cop, I feel,” said Nichols, sitting behind his desk at Truckee Town Hall, dressed in a green, button-up shirt.Nichols is about to finish off a long and successful police career, the twilight of which was spent with the Truckee Police Department. And unlike a few cops who came to town to fill Truckee’s nascent police department in 2001, Nichols was already here. As a veteran of Sacramento and Southern California police beats, Nichols, who was working as a code enforcement officer in Truckee, was able to give town officials advice on the formation of the department.In his five years on the force, Nichols rose from a police sergeant to the second in command behind the police chief, Scott Berry. The Truckee police force will miss Nichols, said Berry, who has served with Nichols on the force since its inception.
“[Nichols] brought experience and professionalism to our department from the first day,” Berry said in an e-mail interview. “He is an outstanding person and friend and one of the best cops I have had the pleasure to work with.”Harrowing experienceNichols brought a veteran mentality to the new force in 2001. In more than 20 years of police work in Southern California and Sacramento, Nichols had just about seen it all.One harrowing experience, three years into his police career, nearly cost him his life.Working as an undercover narcotics officer at age 32, Nichols drove into a Southern California drug deal that quickly deteriorated into a rain of bullets.One of the drug dealers put a .357 Magnum to Nichols’ face and pulled the trigger.”The gun was touching my face when he shot me,” Nichols said.
The slug passed through Nichols’ cheek, bounced off of his jawbone, came out his neck and then went into his shoulder before coming out of his back.Nichols, severely wounded and in a cross fire of shots, was able to shoot the drug dealer before going down.”Everybody was shooting with everybody,” he said.Although he nearly bled to death on the way to the hospital, Nichols made and amazing recovery and was back on the same beat in four months.”I felt that I wasn’t going to let that scare me away,” he said. “I decided that when I went back I would go back doing the same thing.”After years of hard police work, and a couple years of semi-retirement, Nichols found Truckee law enforcement full of its own challenges.”Dealing with Mother Nature on a grand scale is something that I had never seen before,” Nichols said of some of the unique cases handled by Truckee cops.”It’s not that different except you throw in some different things like a 1,000 square miles of forest to find someone in or a snow storm to find someone in,” he said.
A Vietnam vet, and a career police officer, Nichols admits there is something about the action and risk of a cop’s job that he has loved.”I wanted to be in a situation where there were risks, but also great satisfaction,” he said.In Truckee, he said, he found a little more satisfaction than risk.”You are a little more in control of things here,” Nichols said. “You can be more proactive than reactive.”While he’ll still think of himself as a cop next year, it will be difficult not being on the streets, Nichols said.”I know I’ll miss it because it’s just in your blood,” he said.But he’s looking forward to retirement, even as he looks back on the last few years of Truckee law enforcement that capped a career in a profession he loves.”It’s an important part of my life,” Nichols said of his Truckee policing career.