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In all his endless hours of desert patrol, deputy sheriff Jim White has pointed his gun at a live human target only once.

It happened shortly after White arrested an acquaintance on a drunken-driving charge along U.S. 50 in Utah's vacant west desert. As he handcuffed the man, a car barreled past doing nearly 100 mph down the open highway.White took chase in his police pickup truck, pursuing the speeding vehicle until the driver finally stopped in the middle of nowhere, got out and ducked behind his car. With his closest backup still making the 20-mile drive from Delta, White knew he was in a spot.

So he did the prudent thing.

"I took the handcuffs off the guy I'd just arrested and gave him a shotgun."

Together, they apprehended the speeder, who turned out to be a drug courier.

Such excitement is the exception for White, who ranges across the vast, arid landscape that covers the west half of three Utah counties - Juab, Millard and Beaver - and part of eastern Nevada. He works for each jurisdiction according to a special arrangement that maintains a scant but constant law-enforcement presence in one of the emptiest parts of America.

White patrols an area roughly the size of Connecticut, and though deputies from distant towns wander into his territory, most of the time he is a lone ranger. The big cities on his turf are Garrison, a community of about 60, Eskdale with perhaps 120 people and - just across the state line - the teeming metropolis of Baker, Nev., population 250.

Mild-mannered and bespectacled, the 39-year-old comes across more as an accountant than a lawman. But he is certified for police work in both states and handles it with a certain firm calm befitting the laconic nature of the desert.

White has been well-received by area residents since he moved to Garrison from Moab to take the post three years ago, according to Capt. Robert Decker of the Millard County sheriff's office in Fillmore. Being a former rancher himself, White can talk the local talk, says Decker.

"Jim fits the mold of the type of deputy we need out there. He gets along well with the people, and the people like him. They're not afraid to call him for help."

Desert patrol doesn't provide drama every day.

"Recently here I've had a few where I didn't get any calls at all," chuckled White, who is in uniform Tuesday through Saturday but on call around the clock.

"I guess it's about the same as any police work . . . you get your domestic disturbances, your traffic control."

On desert duty, you also get your occasional rustling complaint. White currently is working on a case involving the disappearance of 150 head of cattle from local rangeland. And there is the all-too-frequent incident of the tourist who ventures off the highway onto some back road and gets lost in Utah's empty quarter, triggering a search-and-rescue effort.

White said delicate encounters occur often enough for him to practice a polished approach that mixes patience with tact.

"They're good people out here," he said. "You can more or less talk 'em down. Sometimes it just takes awhile."

Deadly violence is rare on White's beat. He has worked only one murder, an incident in which a drunken man killed a friend at a remote ranchhouse 45 miles south of Garrison.

White, who supports a wife and children, said he won't always be alone on the job. Four local citizens already have answered a recent advertisement for volunteers to join a "sheriff's posse" that would be called to arms in time of emergency.

Likely to be found on his days off helping neighbors brand horses or mend fence, White said he would rather ride the lonesome range than work any city street.

"I'm satisfied right here," he said, squinting into a dusty desert sunset. "Everything I like to do is right out here."