Riverton Police Department Tries New Approach To Fight Discrimination
Jane Juve makes her morning rounds through the same building where she served as Riverton’s city attorney two decades ago. Now she’s the Riverton Police Department’s new ‘community relations ombudsman.’
“If you feel like your civil rights have been violated, you’re more than welcome to come to my office in city hall,” Juve says.
Last year at a the Center of Hope detox center, a white city parks worker shot two Northern Arapahoe men, killing one. Tribal leadership lobbied for the killer to be charged with a hate crime and pointed to a trend in widespread bigotry against Native Americans in the town.
Riverton’s Police Department decided to take a new approach: hiring someone who could investigate discrimination. Juve’s been in the job since February 1.
Juve has done some civil rights defense work and worked in juvenile and criminal courts across the state. She says her job here is to educate Riverton residents about their civil rights. For example, she’s planning a seminar on fair housing law for landlords.
“If we know what our rights are—and there are rights on the part of the landlord and rights on the part of the tenant,” says Juve. “If we can get all that smoothed out, then other facets of relationships become easier and more manageable.”
Now Native Americans—and others—who are denied housing due to discrimination finally have somewhere to go to file a claim. Juve can’t arrest anybody or provide legal services, but she can mediate disputes. Her job is part-time, and Juve says she hasn’t seen many clients yet.
“I hope that this avenue of problem resolution will go a long way toward helping people have a more harmonious living experience here in Fremont County,” says Juve.
She’ll investigate bias crimes based on religion, color, sex—not just race. But Juve, who is white, does understand that racial disharmony between whites and Native Americans is the problem that brought her here.
“I knew about the Center of Hope shooting,” says Juve. “I was familiar with some of the other civil rights issues that historically have been a part of Fremont County. Chief Broadhead has a pattern and a history of identifying a problem and coming up with a very proactive solution, and this was another instance of that.”
Chief Broadhead also acknowledges that Juve’s hire was primarily to address concerns raised by the Native American community.
“It is in response to complaints I heard, and the Center of Hope shooting was sort of the final straw,” Broadhead says.
He says, in meetings following the shooting, tribal leaders described a trend of discrimination and hostility in Riverton.
“The question came up again, which I have heard at previous meetings that people feel, particularly around housing, that Native people can’t get fair treatment when it comes to housing in Riverton,” Broadhead says.
Broadhead decided last summer to create the new position. Back then, he shared with me his initial impulse, which was to hire a Native American for the job.
“I think without question that person needs to be a Native American, and they need to be someone who will be recognized by both of our tribal entities as someone that they can work with,” Broadhead said in July.
Six months later, the Department hired Juve, who is non-Native, but Broadhead says a representatives from both the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone tribes worked with him to review applications and conduct interviews. That group unanimously selected Juve for the job.
“Having tribal input in her selection was critically important but that’s just step one, right? The next step is really up to her to build that relationship with Native folks and non-Native folks alike,” Broadhead says.
In the afternoon, she meets Eastern Shoshone Jason Baldes, executive director of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center. Baldes says if Juve’s new job will expose racism, and that’s good.
“Racism is alive and well in this town,” says Baldes. “Usually border towns, or towns that are closer reservations have a higher rate of racism. When Native Americans go to town, we want to be able to go to the store and not get followed around. There’s stereotypes people have that we need to diminish.”
Baldes and Juve discuss the controversial EPA reservation boundary decision that the tribes, city and state are battling over in court. They agree to meet again to discuss youth issues.
“After meeting Jane and realizing the type of person she is, I think that she’s genuinely interested in looking out for the best interest of Native people and non-Native people, and is going to be unbiased in either favor,” says Baldes.
Juve insists her race isn’t relevant to her job.
“As a civil rights investigator, I think your race has nothing to do with that,” says Juve. “I think it’s what is your knowledge base and background and experience.”
Juve also says advocating for the Native American community is not necessarily her job’s focus.
“There are any number of people whose civil rights may be impinged or violated that are not native,” she says.
Juve’s right, but FBI data shows, for example, that Native Americans are about 8 times as likely as white Americans to be victims of a race-based hate crimes. It’s clear that this vulnerable population in and around Riverton needs her services the most.