By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Law enforcement agencies across the country are facing criticism as never before, their actions coming under fire from groups who have gone so far as to suggest cuts in funding for police activities.
But the situation in Wyoming is exactly the opposite, according to law enforcement officials, with residents often expressing appreciation in truly Wyoming ways.
“During the initial strife in other parts of the country, a lot of our agencies were receiving cookies and cakes and cards and school kids visits, in a manner of appreciation,” said Byron Oedekoven, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
In major cities across the country, police are resigning in the face of criticism and assaults on their funding.
The situation is so bad in Atlanta that police are quitting at a record pace — since 2020, more than 275 officers have quit the force, and the department is more than 400 officers under its authorized level. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, homicides in the urban area are up 58% and arrests are down 43%.
The situation is similar in Portland, where members of the city’s Rapid Response Team, a specially trained group responsible for responding to almost nightly riots in downtown Portland, have all resigned from their volunteer positions on the team to return to the regular police force. The city’s police chief blamed the resignations in part on a lack of support from city officials.
But in Wyoming, law enforcement officers are feeling appreciated, not targeted, Oedekoven said, as evidenced by shows of support for police departments and sheriff’s offices around the state.
“And that was very reassuring for our local officers – that the community is not buying into the national hype, and to the national agenda of vilifying law enforcement and/or calling for defunding or extreme measures against law enforcement,” he said.“So we’re very gratified by that, humbled by that, and appreciate the fact that we are, in fact, appreciated,” he said.
That appreciation is being expressed for law enforcement agencies around the state.
Luke Reiner, director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said a survey conducted a few months ago showed that the level of satisfaction residents have with their Highway Patrol troopers is only going up.
“I always talk about the great employees at WYDOT,” he said, “but it’s nice to see it substantiated in a public survey. Our troopers got high marks — and what’s interesting is, if you got stopped because you’re having to have a friendly little discussion with the trooper about some of your personal driving habits, then your positive opinion of the troopers only went up.”
The survey showed that among those stopped by the Highway Patrol for some reason, 86% were satisfied with the courtesy and respect shown by officers.
Among those who have not been stopped, the rating was still relatively high — 68% — but lower than the satisfaction level of those who actually interacted with troopers.
That positive attitude doesn’t come without hard work, according to former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak. He told Cowboy State Daily that when he took over the department in 2010, community relations needed some improvement.
“When I came, there was a little bit of tension between the police department and the community, in that there really was not much community outreach from the police department,” he said. “So over the next several years, our department really strove to improve that. That’s why we created those Neighborhood Night Out Parties, we started the Citizens Police Academy, we started a Citizens Advisory Committee.
“We started a robust volunteer program, we started a youth explorer program – so all those things got citizens involved in the community, and then we really started a strong social media platform,” he continued. “So the citizens felt like they were a part of our agency, and I think that paid off.”
Kozak added that during the pandemic, appreciation in Wyoming for law enforcement and other emergency service agencies only grew.
“Even when across the country, police officers were kind of feeling left out, the Cheyenne citizens kind of stepped up,” he said. “They would always bring goods and treats and stuff down to the police station, they would draw chalk signs on the sidewalks, they’d leave notes on the police cars.”
Oedekoven attributed the positive relationship to the fact that the state is made up of primarily small towns — which means that everyone knows everyone else.
“In smaller communities the officers are more well known,” he said. “Those platters of cookies are heartfelt, and officers kind of know the whole baking-and-making crew that went into it.”
Kozak echoes that sentiment.
“The residents here in this state, because we’re such a small population, know our police officers,” he says. “You know, they live in the communities that we live in, that the community lives in, and so I think those relationships really foster that kind of cooperation.”