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Cody Police Chief Reflects On Police Culture And Training

Kamila Kudelska
Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker speaks to participants at the Cody rally.

As the protests erupt throughout the nation and state over police brutality, some law enforcement officials have come out speaking against George Floyd's killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker released a joint statement with the Powell Police and Park County Sheriff departments describing themselves appalled by the use of force.

Chief Baker spoke at a rally in Cody saying he was there to listen. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska sat down with the Cody police chief to hear what he learned from being present at the rally.

Chief Chuck Baker: Well, there's certainly a lot of concern about equality in law enforcement. There's a lot of concern about brutality in law enforcement. There's a lot of concern about, you know, people dying at the hands of law enforcement. So, you know, I think all of that information is very important as a starting point for me to understand the community. One of the things that I've always said, is that you have to align your services and your policing philosophy with the desires of your community.

Kamila Kudelska: Are police receiving training on handling conflicts with diverse groups of people, whether that's people of color, or people with mental health issues for instance?

CB: Well, one of the things is most recently, we've had a lot of focus on our training related to dealing with people that are in crisis, mental health issues, developmental disabilities and conditions that cause people to act radically and threateningly. The other piece is dealing with armed encounters with people other than firearms. So we've really focused on those two components most recently. We've also included into our training a component of de-escalation. Right now, we're in the process of reviewing all policies and procedures. We have recently implemented some new policies. And we're going to continue to review those policies, particularly with our internal affairs investigation process, the review of use of force, the review of police pursuits, all of those reviews of critical police actions.

KK: And what about training regarding encounters with people of color in the state?

CB: That quite honestly is one of the things that is lacking in our organization. And I've talked about that in my piece that is one of the components that we need to do better at. And the other thing is, you know, police officers do not like to be called racist. But the point I was making it at the rally was that racism comes in other forms other than racists. And in law enforcement, we've allowed some of these cultures. And we've categorized or stereotyped groups of people in certain ways that makes us act and treat those people differently. And so the culture of organizations is very critical at the law enforcement leadership side to monitor, manage and ensure you have an advocate of an appropriate culture, but we can do better with training.

KK: Can you go into a little bit more specifics about the culture that you're talking about, of how to instill that culture in the police force?

CB: So you don't want to have a culture of us versus them. You want to have a community collaborative culture in your organization where the community works with the law enforcement to ensure that the law enforcement aligns with community expectations. And so there's a lot of familiarity, and again, in knowing that your chief of police will take action, if there is an inappropriate incident that occurs within the organization within your jurisdiction is very important. The other thing that's very important is, particularly in this event, is the duty to intervene. You know, the one thing that I have to instill as it relates to culture is that we have to hold ourselves accountable. Because if we don't, organizations and people are going to come in and, and hold us accountable, and maybe to a different standard, that is inappropriate for law enforcement. But the point is that internally, we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I have to rely on my officers at three o'clock in the morning, when three of them are dealing with an incident and one of them sees something that is not in line with our values, not in line with our policies or procedures, they step in, they take action, they intervene. That's the one thing that I saw in this that really made me very angry about the profession. [We] have to hold ourselves accountable. You have to have a very strong culture of accountability.

KK: And so you mentioned that there's not enough training or hasn't been enough in the past about handling conflicts with diverse groups of people. And nationally right now, there seems to be police departments that are making changes and taking action because of this event. And I just wonder if you are thinking of taking any actions.

CB: The one thing is and again, that was why I was there, I was listening to people. And that's something that I can construe from what I heard, and what I saw, is that the way that we interact with people. And so I think it's important that that will be something that we'll evaluate within our training curriculum as we go forward. I do know that in Wyoming, it's included to a certain degree within our academy training, but what they need, what we need to have is ongoing training and continuing training in the organization in our regular in service training. So, what that looks like, how it fits, you know, in the Cody Police Department, and this region will be to be determined.

KK: Right. Thank you so much, Chief Baker.

CB: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudeska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.

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