Whaley grew up in the tule fog of the Central Valley, where his father was the Tulare County undersheriff. After studying agricultural business at Cal Poly, Whaley worked patrol in San Luis Obispo until he was transferred back to Tulare two years ago.
His family still raises walnuts, plums and beef cattle on 50 acres in Woodlake. As Whaley loops around Tulare County, he waves at former schoolmates hauling bales of hay, and when he steps out of his car to investigate crimes on a local ranch, he gets slapped on the back by farmers who know his father.
In his four years in law enforcement Whaley has seen a wide array of crime. In the last two months the Tulare County Sheriff's Department has recovered 10 tons of walnuts, bags of avocados, three cows, a golf cart, a forklift, two tractors, batteries, fuel tanks and a Kawasaki mule.
"Anything that's harvested is being stolen," Whaley said. "Anything and everything."
The economy is making the job more challenging, as budget cuts leave the Sheriff's Department shorthanded. With an unemployment rate of nearly 17%, Tulare County is suffering. Foreclosure signs dot Visalia, and at a recycling depot on the outskirts of town people line up to exchange cans for a bit of cash.
"There are a ton of people out of work," said Cox, the squad detective sergeant. "There are those that may have been scraping by previously, but now they're doing whatever they have to do to support themselves."
Whaley says some of the thieves would steal in good times or bad. He suspects some are drug addicts trying to get enough cash to support their habit. Others, down on their luck and out of work, filch crops and sell them at the side of the road to make a few extra bucks.
"You can bet on a moonlit night someone's going to be out in the walnuts," said farmer Butch Gist, standing among flourishing pistachio trees on his farm, which has been in operation for 125 years.
Gist, who also grows walnuts, hires a private security firm for the peak of walnut season, because once the crop is stolen it's difficult for detectives to get it back. Crops, unlike equipment or cattle, can't be branded.
Whaley's unit caught a break recently, when a farmworker called in to report two men and a woman stealing avocados off the trees of a local orchard.
The thieves fled when squad cars arrived, but they left their car behind. Whaley towed the car and, after getting a search warrant, found a cellphone inside. He ran some of the phone numbers found on the phone and was able to track down a suspect. Under questioning, the suspect gave up her co-conspirators. The case is winding its way through the legal system.
The Sheriff's Department has also started a program to make farm gear easier to track by putting special identification numbers on tractors and other equipment.
Later in the day, Whaley leans on a rusty RV, looking for an ID number on a welding machine sitting haphazardly on a remote corner of a dairy farm. A drifter has hauled the RV onto a farmer's land and piled it with junk, including copper wire, orchard ladders and welding machines that Whaley suspects may be stolen.
He writes down serial numbers and takes photos of the equipment, poking through canisters of empty bull semen straws, old hubcaps and boxes filled with shoes, magazines and clothing. His day thus far has been a game of cat and mouse, visiting crime scenes after thefts have occurred. It will take a bit of sleuthing to catch the mice.
That fact leads him to the last and most dreaded activity of the day. As rush-hour traffic starts to clog the streets of Tulare, Whaley steers his truck back to his office, situated next to alfalfa fields where horses graze.
He has spent the day talking to farmers and gathering evidence. Now it's time to work on something that plagues all cops, whether they're walking through crops or city blocks: reams and reams of paperwork.