Casper Residents Want More Police Visibility, Communication
Casper residents said during a forum Wednesday that the police department could show itself more such as its officers did during the Eclipsefest to help its image.
"How cool was it to see them walking the streets," Elissa Ruckle told consultants for the Center for Public Safety Management.
Consultant Wayne Hiltz asked the couple dozen people at City Hall about the department's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as part of the Center's half-year independent analysis of the city's law enforcement agency.
City Council hired the Center in March for $60,000 as tensions were rising since last fall in part because of the department's seeming lack of concern about sexual assault cases, and apparent discontent about former Police Chief Jim Wetzel's management of the department.
Those tensions erupted April 4 with the release of the results of a Fraternal Order of Police survey that cited problems with low morale among officers, a large number of officers saying they want to quit, Wetzel's authoritarian leadership, and low staffing numbers among other issues.
On April 17, most sworn officers in the department cast a vote of "no confidence" in Wetzel as part of a demand for a change in leadership.
On May 5, Interim City Manager Liz Becher announced Wetzel was fired. Capt. Steve Schulz was named interim chief.
Wetzel and local business leaders later castigated the council and Becher.
Meanwhile, the Center for Public Management started conducting a data-driven review of the department's work load, staffing, deployment, operations, and support services.
Wednesday's forum was part of its research. (Casper City Council members and police staff deliberately did not attend the meeting so people would not feel constrained as they made their comments.)
A couple of the women in the audience referred to the department's perceived disinterest in investigating sexual assault cases.
Aimee Kidd said the department has a victim services coordinator, but it seems the coordinator sometimes acts more as an advocate more for the department than the victim. She also recommended the department have a "one-stop shop" for victims to file reports because they sometimes feel intimidated by officers.
Kidd also said she's known of instances when reports were filed and it will take weeks before a detective looks at them.
Hiltz, who kept a mostly neutral attitude during the discussion, called that inexcusable.
Several people said the department could do a better job of communicating within itself and with the community, and recommended embracing social media more than it does.
They also would like to see more police presence with officers walking and biking in neighborhoods.
Dan Sandoval wondered if that was a "pie in the sky" wish because of a lack of staffing.
Hiltz said he and the other consultants are taking a hard look at the officers' work load, and it will be up to the city whether it wants to put more resources, namely money, into the department.
He added policing has become more difficult with politics, undeserved hostile media coverage, pay that cannot compete with other jobs, the frustration that people expect cases to be solved as fast as they are on television programs, and the loss of the attraction of law enforcement.
Hiring and retaining officers is difficult, Hiltz said. Los Angeles has 1,000 openings on its force, and Tucson, Ariz., has 100 openings. Phoenix, he added, is offering $5,000-$10,000 signing bonuses to recruit officers from Tucson.
Despite the recent turmoil in the department, Casper is fortunate in that its officers live among the people they serve.
The Center, Hiltz said, looks only at the department, not at laws that may need changing or whether a district attorney decides to prosecute a case.
After it finishes its research, the Center will publish a report with its findings and recommendations.
What Casper does with those recommendations is up to the city council, he said.