UPDATE: Shortly after this story originally aired, Interim City Manager Liz Becher announced that Police Chief Jim Wetzel will no longer serve in that role. According to the press release, “the City of Casper has decided to go in a new direction in the leadership of the Casper Police department.”
Over the last several months, there have been growing concerns about the Casper Police Department. First, female residents said their sexual assault cases were mishandled. Then, a third party survey revealed low morale amongst police officers and potential leadership problems. Now, Casper awaits the results of multiple investigations.
When women first approached Casper’s City Council last fall to ask why the Casper Police Department didn’t appear to be concerned with their sexual assault cases, it started a long series of discussions of internal operations of the Casper Police. Initially, the City Council was very defensive of the Police Department.
Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay was elected in November and has worked hard to change that attitude.
“We as a city council, it’s our responsibility to address this,” said Huckabay.
City Attorney Bill Luben has cautioned Huckabay and the rest of council at length, that they cannot be involved in personnel matters at city departments, including the police.
Recently that advice has been ignored. The trigger appears to be a survey that landed in the hands of Mayor Kenyne Humphrey.
“I was given some copies last night by the Fraternal Order of Police of a survey that was completed of our law enforcement members,” said Kenyne, during the City Council’s April 4 meeting. “There are some things in the survey that are a little bit alarming, and I recognize that there are always two sides to every story.”
The Fraternal Order of Police is a nation-wide organization of sworn law enforcement officers with thousands of local branches called “lodges,” including one in Casper known as Lodge 6.
After hearing concerns about Police Chief Jim Wetzel, Lodge 6 surveyed 84 people who work for the police department, including 70 sworn officers and 14 civilian employees.
The responses described a chain of command that prevents officers from doing their job, like investigating cases of sexual assault. Councilwoman Huckabay read some of those comments aloud at a City Council meeting.
“Often times cases that are more interesting to command are assigned and override any other cases, causing serious issues. Therefore, the investigating officer gets the heat from citizens and prosecutors that the officer doesn’t deserve,” read Huckabay.
Chief Jim Wetzel declined an interview with Wyoming Public Radio.
Other comments accused the city’s administration of ignoring these concerns. Two days after the survey was released by the mayor, City Manager V.H. McDonald announced his retirement.
While the survey paints a bleak picture of the Police Department, not all Casper citizens were convinced that the results are accurate. That’s because none of the people surveyed were identified.
Casper resident Kyle True raised that issue at a recent City Council meeting.
“Every person has a right to listen to and see and understand their accusers,” said True. “I think what we see in this, on one side they are anonymous--we don’t know who they are, fraternal order of police--complaining about vague problems with, we’re not happy with where we work.”
The Fraternal Order of Police has declined to publicly discuss their survey.
While some residents are skeptical, others believe that officers are going unnamed because they are fearful of retribution.
Another thing that was mentioned in the survey—49 employees were looking for other work. Mayor Humphrey recently told City Council that’s a concern.
“I want everybody to know that I support our officers and I want to keep our officers here and keep our community safe, so I’m not sure it’s as easy to replace them as we think it would be,” said Humphrey.
All this has pushed the City Council to pay for an outside review of the Casper Police Department. It will look at such things as workload and will review the department’s investigative process.
Councilman Jesse Morgan said it would be good to put the issue to rest before hiring a new city manager.
“I think it’s important to have an impartial review of the police department, specifically, and have that available to whoever steps foot in that position,” said Morgan.
Councilwoman Huckabay agreed.
“It is not admirable of us to bring in a new city manager into a mess we created and expect them to clean it up,” said Huckabay. “I think that’s our responsibility.”
The results of the outside investigation are expected by September—but there’s more. This week, Interim City Manager Liz Becher told the council of an additional investigation of the Police Department.
“Your honor, there is an internal investigation going on now that we have, we’re waiting for the results that Judy Studer, that is a local attorney, has been conducting,” said Becher.
The future of Chief Jim Wetzel could hinge on the results of those investigations, but he said he has no plans to resign.