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In Riverton, arrest data shows large racial disparities persist

A bar graph shows the "% of population" vs. the "% of arrests" for Riverton, Lander and Fremont County.
Jeff Victor
Wyoming Public Media
The Riverton Peace Mission compiled data from DataUSA.io and the FBI Crime Data Explorer to show stark racial disparities in the arrests made by each law enforcement agency in Fremont County from 2016-2020.

The Riverton Peace Mission has compiled data showing stark racial disparities in the arrests made by all the local law enforcement agencies from 2016-2020.

  • In Riverton, Indigenous people make up 11 percent of the population, but 77 percent of the arrests made by the Riverton Police Department.
  • In Lander, Indigenous people make up 7 percent of the population, but 44 percent of the arrests made by the Lander Police Department.
  • In Fremont County as a whole, Indigenous people make up 21 percent of the population, but 43 percent of the arrests made by the Fremont County Sheriff's Office.

The group presented that data to the Riverton City Council Tuesday and called on the council to establish a permanent committee to address institutional racism.
Peace Mission Co-Chair Chesie Lee said they've been pushing for such a committee for several months now.

"But it never really came down to being able to set up a permanent, ongoing committee to address these problems," she said.

Now, Lee is hoping the new data will underline the need for that committee.

In 2019, claiming self-defense, a Riverton Police Officer shot and killed a Northern Arapaho man. The violent incident shook the community and inspired the Riverton Peace Mission's work.

However, it's far from the only violence the group and its members are worried about. In 2015, a Riverton city employee shot two people at a detox center.

Nicole Wagon, who has been active in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons movement, reminded the council of her own close relationship to violence — her daughter Jocelyn's murder in 2019 and her daughter Jade's murder just one year later.

"My daughter was murdered in the city of Riverton," Wagon told the council. "That's not normal."

Others spoke about their work with homeless individuals, many of whom live with behavioral health issues, including alcoholism. Some called on the council to decriminalize alcoholism.

Lee said many of the arrests contributing to the racial disparity are for public intoxication or for not paying fines related to public intoxication charges. She said those are issues related to public health and poverty that can not be solved by incarceration.

Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock said the Peace Mission's concerns were being heard. Later in the meeting, as the council discussed its goals for the upcoming year, Hancock said Riverton wants to have "responsive, respectful police."

"In the safety and law enforcement (goals), we have 'increase visibility and community policing,'" he said. "The big idea of community policing is having partnerships between community and police. We're wanting to make sure we're engaged with our community."

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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