The use of police force in the city of Laramie and Albany County has been a contentious topic since 2018, when an Albany County Sheriff’s Office Deputy shot and killed a mentally challenged man during a traffic stop.
Laramie City Council unanimously approved creating an advisory board Wednesday that will communicate directly to Laramie Police Chief Brian Browne concerns expressed by residents about the Laramie Police Department, and in return share insights from the department with the public.
The Laramie City Council unanimously approved the measure.
Browne supports the seven-member panel, which will be chosen by the council.
“It’s a great opportunity to increase transparency, and I’m hopeful it will be an opportunity for the citizens to be our advocates,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
The advisory board is not charged with oversight and has no regulatory power over the police department. Any recommendation the board makes to the department is only that, a recommendation.
During a 2018 traffic stop, an Albany County Sheriff’s Office deputy shot and killed a mentally challenged man named Robbie Ramirez. Two of the bullets hit him in the back.
The event drew outrage from many in the Laramie community and sparked pressure to make changes to area law enforcement. A settlement was eventually reached between the county and the family in 2022.
Ramirez’s death was the inspiration for the founding of the Albany County for Proper Policing organization. And while the shooting involved a county deputy, in the five years since there has been public scrutiny of both the Sheriff’s Office and LPD.
“This review board is a step toward meaningful government transparency and accountability that saves lives and improves police & community relations,” the group’s founder and state Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said in a Wednesday post on Twitter.
Debbie Hinkel, Ramirez’s mother, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the advisory board is “terrific” for the Laramie community.
“I hope they get good people,” she said. “They need someone that understands the system and intelligent and have the ability to look at both sides. They don’t need a negative perspective of police officers, they need a perspective of right and wrong.”
The 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department galvanized a movement across America to enact significant police reform measures.
In June 2020, formal conversations began in Laramie about forming a review board that would give input on both the LPD and sheriff’s office.
The council considered a city oversight board in early 2022, but rejected the proposal after a last-second vote change. Some council members at the time said they felt the oversight board went too far in its powers and was not the right fit for Laramie.
Browne’s predecessor, former Laramie Police Chief Dale Stalder, opposed an oversight board.
“We already collaborate with a number of organizations around the community that do exactly what this motion speaks to,” Stalder said when the council considered it in 2022, according to the Laramie Boomerang. “I’m not sure what else we can gain from that that we aren’t already doing.”
Laramie resident Sandi Rees mentioned to the council how more than 1,000 signatures were collected opposing a police review board.
“Here we go again. How many times are we going to have to meet and deal with this before we can put it to bed?” she questioned.
Laramie resident Tracey Rosenlund told the council she believes the project represents what the community wants and that it will improve the relationship between residents and the LPD.
“I think this has created a good outcome for all parties involved,” she said.
Others like Linda Devine said some residents don’t feel comfortable speaking to members of the police department directly or having officers around at public events.
“Some people don’t know enough about them, don’t know that they don’t need to be scared of our police department,” council member Erin O’Doherty said.
PR vs. Oversight
In most ways what passed Wednesday was more of a public relations board with some of the lighter elements of the originally proposed oversight board mixed in.
Browne said he welcomes the opportunity to share more insight into his police department.
“A really effective advisory board has both components, and it’s so important to share what we’re doing as far as use of force,” Browne said.
Browne said contentious use of force issues happening in other parts of the country are not the type of policing happening in Laramie.
“What’s happening in Laramie is definitely not comparable to Ferguson, Missouri, or Minnesota or in Baltimore (Maryland),” he said. “And the advisory board should reflect that.”
Although Laramie Mayor Brian Harrington said he supported more drastic police reform measures in the past and continues to do so today, he implored residents to support the new board. He described what passed Wednesday as “radically in the middle.”
“Let’s give the board a chance to do the work they’re being asked to do by the council,” he said.
What It Will Do
The advisory board will work to expand public transparency and accountability in an effort to promote greater trust and understanding of law enforcement training, policies, practices and procedures. The board will provide recommendations to the chief of police, city manager and City Council.
Recommended changes can be based on policy and practices, police training procedures, reviewing use-of-force incidents where the conduct of an officer resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person and any use of force deemed by the chief of police to be of high public interest.
But some pieces of department information related to use of force will be off limits, Browne said.
“There’s certain things we can’t share with the public, but I’m a big proponent of open dialogue,” he said.
In return, the chief will give the board statistics on officer-involved shootings, use-of-force incidents and complaints via an annual report. The chief also will be responsible for providing presentations and reports on relevant topics.
“It’s a good opportunity to explain and have a platform to share that info,” Browne said. “It’s important to be able to build that trust in the community.”
What The Council. Thinks
City Council member Jim Shumway said he’s skeptical of the advisory board, but he voted for it.
“As long as the buck stops here I’m OK with it,” he said.
He expressed concern that it’s based on a presumption that those who oversee the police department, like the= council and city manager, are not effectively doing their jobs.
Shumway said by creating the board, there should also be a similar group to provide input to Albany County School District 1 about issues like transgender athletics, controversial books in school libraries and the retention of certain teachers.
Council member Micah Richardson questioned the validity of this argument, saying when students go to a principal’s office, they don’t have to worry about a staff member pulling a gun on them.
Council member Jayne Pearce didn’t support the originally proposed oversight board but supports the advisory group as an opportunity to share positive information about the police department with the public.
Some residents opposing the board on Wednesday expressed confidence in the skill and ability of Laramie police officers and said they view the board as granting people the ability to recommend discipline and termination against members of the police department. Others like Rees said the City Council already exercises the duties that will be created by the new board.
“Do not abdicate it to a group of unelected bureaucrats who are not answerable to the public,” she said. “You all need to step up and resume and retain your responsibility as the oversight board.”
Browne said he understands reservations like these and the hesitation in the police community about taking orders or advice from people who have never worked in law enforcement.
Albany County Commissioner Pete Gosar said he would generally support a similar group for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, but also pointed out that it would have even less power than the city’s advisory board.
The police chief in Laramie is hired and reports directly to the city manager, who reports directly to the City Council. The sheriff is elected by voters and works in coordination with commissioners, but does not report to them.
“We could try and do that, but we really would have no oversight,” Gosar said.
Albany County Sheriff Aaron Applehans did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment about his thoughts on the new board and whether he would support something similar for the sheriff’s department.
The new board is scheduled to start its work by early 2024.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.