Ontario police chief sees needs in agency as he departs for Nevada

Cal Kunz, Ontario police chief, will depart after a two-year stint. Kunz will take over the West Wendover, Nev., police force. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon).

ONTARIO – Not long after Cal Kunz became Ontario’s chief of police, he confronted an unexpected challenge.

The department’s portable radios were outdated and failing.

When he worked at the Salt Lake City Police Department, Kunz said a failed radio took no time to replace.

 “In Salt Lake City, there was a depot. You walked in and handed in a radio. They handed you a new one and it worked,” said Kunz.

That wasn’t the case in Ontario.

 “I had to learn how radios work. What towers they bounce off. It was a big learning curve to me. I had to learn about the whole picture,” said Kunz.

Now, Kunz is leaving to work in an even smaller community.

Kunz announced last week that he is leaving to take a similar position in West Wendover, Nev.

Kunz spent 21 years on the Salt Lake police force before taking over the Ontario job in June 2016. He said he isn’t anxious to leave Ontario.

Yet West Wendover – on the Nevada-Utah border and about an hour from Salt Lake City – places him closer to his family.

“I’ve grown very attached (to Ontario) in a very short time. It is certainly not an easy thing to leave. But all my family is in Utah,” said Kunz.

Utah is also where his wife – a member of the Utah Highway Patrol – lives. Kunz said his wife was preparing to retire but a job switch inside the highway patrol put her on a different career path.

“She’s having a lot of success so that was the motivation,” said Kunz.

West Wendover is a lot like Ontario, said Kunz.

“It is right on the border. The town has five major casinos and there is a pretty big influx of population on weekends,” said Kunz.

Kunz said coming to Ontario to be chief is a decision he does not regret.

“When I came here I saw a good solid group of cops. They really, really care about their community,” said Kunz.

Kunz said “the cops here I would stack up against any big city police department.”

“When you commit a crime here the cops are going to track you down. They build really good cases,” said Kunz.

Kunz said one example of that dedication occurred about a year ago after a home invasion.

“The suspect was unknown to the victim but within 48 hours, with just good police work, we able to identify the person. We had officers who saw the woman was victimized and they were bound and determined to stop them and keep it from happening to someone else,” said Kunz.

Kunz said police officers worked on their days off on the case. If his officers did not have the needed resources on that case, they improvised, said Kunz.

“These cops here have this mentality that the job just needs to get done,” said Kunz.

Kunz said two items from his tenure stick out.

“We obviously have poverty and different issues and there are a lot of people who need help. But I was super impressed when I got here that for everyone that needed help, there was a citizen who wanted to help,” said Kunz.

Kunz said one of his best achievements was to create a reserve detachment.

“That was the biggest thing. We have these reserve officers now who just want to be part of the police department and help. They’re volunteers and are not compensated but you give them a chance to get some experience,” said Kunz.

Kunz’s departure will leave a gap in the local law enforcement community, said Ray Rau, Nyssa police chief.

“He is leaving that place a lot better. He did a really good job building relationships. He had a great vision for not only the Ontario Police Department but for law enforcement in Malheur County,” said Rau.

Ron Verini, the former mayor of Ontario, said Kunz put in a solid performance.

“He was an excellent person to work with. Very forthcoming and he kept us informed as a council when things were going on in the community that we needed to know,” said Verini.

Kunz said the police department is still hampered by inadequate resources.

 “The biggest challenge we have is the amount of staffing we have. We have such a good staff and they do so much. I look at that and think for every additional officer we’d have in the department we could do even more good,” said Kunz.

Illegal narcotics and gang activity will also continue to be challenges, said Kunz. Ontario does have a gang problem, said Kunz.

“Anytime you have a group of people that are joining together and committing crimes, it is a problem,” said Kunz.

An officer dedicated to fighting gangs would make a big difference, said Kunz.

“You can’t prevent all gang crimes. But if you do have an officer focused on that element you can have them building a rapport with these gangs and, a lot of times, that officer can see when a problem is stirring and be more proactive,” said Kunz.

Kuntz said he will miss Ontario.

“There are a lot of good people in this community,” said Kunz.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.