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Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office To Undergo National Training To Prevent ‘George Floyd’ Situations

in Law enforcement/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

When Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, none of his fellow officers stopped him in the 9 minutes and 29 seconds it took Floyd to stop breathing.

That’s a scenario that the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office is determined to prevent by training officers to prevent misconduct and mistakes by their colleagues.

This week, Sheriff John Grossnickle announced that his office is the first law enforcement agency in Wyoming accepted into the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, a national training and support initiative based at Georgetown University. The program is committed to building a culture of peer intervention to prevent harm to both the people officers interact with and officers themselves.

“Being in law enforcement for over 26 years,” Grossnickle told Cowboy State Daily, “there was a time and place that other officers would step in, but there’s a factor of being uncomfortable if you were to observe something that you didn’t think was right. This allows our agency to hold one another accountable and takes it a step further and ensures our community that they can hold us accountable at the same time.”

The ABLE project is evidence-based and field-tested, according to Deputy Jason Mower, and designed to provide practical “active bystandership” strategies and tactics to law enforcement officers to help them prevent misconduct, reduce mistakes, and promote health and wellness among officers themselves.

“As a law enforcement agency … in this day and age, the reality is whether it’s an accident, whether it’s honest mistake, or whether it’s something more nefarious, if one officer does something, inevitably, they’re going to drag the rest of the officers down with them,” Mower said. “And the agency and everybody looks bad.”

National Program

The Sheriff said he first heard about the program at a leadership class a year ago.

“There were a lot of other administrators there from larger agencies, upwards of 500 (officers), I think,” he said. “Some of those had implemented it and had just seen the change in their community and a change in their agencies. And speaking with them, I decided – much like my platform was when I ran the first time – it’s just something we needed to implement as an extension of the people here at Sweetwater County.”

The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s office is one of more than 215 law enforcement agencies and statewide and regional training academies from across North America implementing the ABLE training program. 

Local Leadership

Sheriff’s Office patrol services and detention center officers Lt. Rich Fischer and Lt. Rich Kaumo are now certified to teach the program and over the coming months, all sheriff’s office deputies will receive eight hours of bystandership education designed not only to prevent harm, but also to change the culture of policing in Sweetwater County.

“It really breaks down misconduct, mistakes, and then, just as the sheriff alluded to, the health and wellness of an officer,” said Kaumo. “The tactics that we were taught break down the aspect of rank, how to intervene and conduct interventions with people that are ranked either higher than you, lower than you or are equal to you.”

“There are indicators that suggest that an employee is going to have a problem,” said Fischer. “We encourage everybody to intervene when they see something. There are policies in place to support intervention, it doesn’t matter who you intervene with, and (insure) that there is no retaliation.”

Community Relations

As much as the ABLE program is an effort to support other law enforcement officers, Fischer pointed out that by encouraging peer intervention, the agency’s reputation is also enhanced within the community.

“If you don’t intervene, a member of the community could be hurt, a member of the agency could be hurt,” he said. “They could lose their job. They could go to prison. The public opinion of the agency, as a career as a whole, is destroyed – and that takes years to rebuild that trust between us and the citizens that we serve.” 

“Even though they may be criminals, or may be having issues in their life, they’re still human beings,” Grossnickle said, “and we need to treat them accordingly, like we would anybody else.”

Everyday Incidents

Lt. Kaumo noted that this training isn’t designed just to prevent high-profile excessive use of force incidents such as the Minneapolis case. He said it’s also about the lesser interactions that could cause issues for officers.

“There are everyday incidents that law enforcement officers across the country face where, proactively in a professional way, you pull an officer aside and say, ‘Hey, man take a breather, or, you know, I got this, take a break for a second,’” Kaumo said.

Fischer said that looking back on his 14 years with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, he can recall incidents where this type of training would have been beneficial.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that would have been a perfect time for me to have done this technique,’” he said. “I knew there were times in the past where intervention could have been warranted for – fortunately for nothing that was misconduct – but you could see steps where … maybe they got in trouble later on, or you notice they were having some issues at home.” 

Mental Health

Grossnickle said because being a law enforcement officer is such a high-stress job, much of the ABLE training supports officers’ mental health.

“If we have officers with clear heads, these types of incidents will go down to zero,” he said. “And this is another piece of that puzzle to keep minds clear – to know that people are going to push our buttons, but others around us will step in and help us when that occurs.

“(This training) is going to allow our employees – not just the sworn officers, but our civilian officers – to recognize that when we see the emotional change or somebody’s demeanor change, that we’re able to step in and prevent any of this from happening,” he continued. “Whether it’s suicide, or they go on the next call that might push them over the edge to have a an encounter that’s not positive.”

Continued Training

Kaumo added that the ABLE training isn’t just a “one-and-done” program.

“The basic training is an eight-hour course that will be pushed out to every officer throughout our agency,” he said. “And then every year there’s a two-hour refresher. So it’s something that continuously they get refreshed on, updated on through the entire time that they’re employed here at the Sheriff’s office.”

Grossnickle noted that the department’s goal is to have all officers trained in the program by June of this year.

“When they successfully complete the ABLE training, they’re gonna get a uniform pin to show that, ‘Hey, I’ve been trained in this. I am an active bystander,’” Fischer said. “All of that is a daily reminder that I’m looking out for my co-workers, myself, everybody that I work with in law enforcement.”

Statewide Effort

Grossnickle told Cowboy State Daily that he hopes that Sweetwater County will not be the last Wyoming county to join the program.

“Moving forward, I am going to challenge all the law enforcement administrators in the state of Wyoming to implement this in their agencies also,” he said, “so we can have Wyoming as a front runner with this program.”

Preventing Tragedy

Grossnickle said that in situations like the high-profile George Floyd case, if Chauvin’s fellow officers had taken part in a training program like ABLE, the entire incident would have gone much differently.

“It wouldn’t have happened if one of those officers would have stepped in and said, ‘Okay, hold on, let me take care of this. You know, he’s already in handcuffs. We don’t need to do this,’” Grossnickle said. “In this day and age, in light of current events, we must embrace the notion that, while our job may be to enforce the law, our mission is to serve others. We are people first, cops second.”

To follow along with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s office progress with this program, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/swcountysheriff.

For more information on the ABLE Project, visit the program’s website at www.law.georgetown.edu/ABLE.

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Wyoming To Honor Fallen Law Enforcement Officers on May 20

in Law enforcement/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

In the last few years, it seems the national attention has been more and more focused on law enforcement officers making bad decisions. 

But in Wyoming, appreciation for law enforcement officers is the rule, not the exception. 

So as the country observes National Police Week May 11-17, the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas is giving Wyoming residents a chance to observe a ceremony to honor the brave men and women who have lost their lives while protecting and serving their communities.

The ceremony planned at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Memorial for Friday, May 20, is a reminder to law enforcement officers and the public that the role of a peace officer is a serious one, said academy Director Chuck Bayne.

“It brings a sense of reality and soberness that (the job) is not all fun and games,” he said. “It’s very serious. This is not a role in a movie.” 

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day. The week in which May 15 falls is designated as National Police Week – a recognition established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962 to recognize those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

In Wyoming, this year’s Fallen Officer ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, May 20, in front of the Law Enforcement Academy.

“We have a marble monument that’s here in front of the academy that all of the names of the fallen law enforcement officers in the history of Wyoming, their names and the dates of which they passed are engraved on that memorial,” said Bayne. 

Since 1776, there have been 25,767 known line-of-duty deaths in America, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. 

In Wyoming, the list totals 68 officers who have lost their lives, most recently Lt. Mark “Mont” Mecham with the Green River Police Department, who died on April 3, 2017, from a gunshot wound. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Mecham was one of 36 officers in the course of Wyoming’s history who was killed by gunfire.

Bayne, who has been involved in Wyoming law enforcement for the last 41 years, told Cowboy State Daily that the annual ceremony honoring fallen officers is very personal to him.

He listed eight officers he knew who had been killed in the line of duty, including Converse County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Stanford, who drowned in 2011, and Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Logsdon, who died in an automobile crash in 1998.

“So, I have quite a number of personal experiences of knowing these guys as partners and colleagues in law enforcement – and the longer you’re in this business, I guess, the more chances you have of that,” he said.

Bayne said that in his role as the director of the Law Enforcement Academy, teaching new recruits the skills they need to be effective officers, he tries to educate trainees about the hazards involved in their chosen career – and the annual remembrance ceremony is a sobering reminder.

“It’s that these things do happen and can happen to them,” Bayne said. “And we try to teach them about what they need to do to help prevent being on the (memorial) wall.”

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Wyoming Cops Say Physical Fitness Is Important But Measuring Waistlines Not The Way To Do It

in Law enforcement/News
Photo by Jimmy Pozarik/Getty Images
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Physical fitness is important to the law enforcement community but significant disagreement surrounds the way it’s measured.

A controversial new program in Texas measures the physical fitness of state troopers by their waist sizes.

The Texas Department of Public Safety recently rolled out a program where men with a waist size exceeding 40 inches and women whose waists are larger than 35 inches are put on a weight loss plan and failure to achieve desired results could mean loss of bonuses, overtime, or even removal from duty.

Don’t expect a similar plan to be unveiled in Wyoming. Law enforcement leaders told Cowboy State Daily that the size of one’s body is not the right standard to measure physical fitness.

Where they do agree with Texas is the importance of a good physical condition. But officials say there are better ways to achieve it.

Size Isn’t A Good Approach

Sheriff John Grossnickle of Sweetwater County, once an NCAA track athlete, discounts the approach overall.

“Look at a football team,” he said.  “Your offensive linemen are in great shape but they look completely different than a cornerback or a wide receiver.”

“So mere size isn’t a good approach,” he said.  “There are other ways to deem if a person is in physical shape.”

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, agreed, stating that waist size is a poor measure of whether or not officers can do their jobs.

“I can show you a couple big boys that run circles around a whole bunch of high school athletes. They are definitely not out of shape with their 40-inch waists,” Oedekoven said.

Both Grossnickle and Oedekoven said officers know it’s in their best interests to stay in shape because of the challenges of the job — whether it be getting into a physical altercation, suffering a broken bone, or even getting shot at.

People recover more quickly if they are physically fit. 

“Your body is going to go into shock when one of these things happen so you will benefit the better shape you’re in,” Grossnickle said. 

Comprehensive Wellness

That’s where mental fitness comes in, said Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick.

The whole picture is what’s important he said.  That’s why his office promotes a combination of both physical and mental fitness.

“We’re requesting more and more from our officers,” Glick said. “With everything that’s going on in the world right now, we’ve got to make sure that we are mentally fit as well.”

Some call it comprehensive wellness. Physical, mental, and even financial wellness is important, Grossnickle said. But he took it a step further.

“We’re going to add a dietician too,” he said. “Because we know how important it its to keep the body sound for the job because it’s so difficult.”

Harder Job

And the job has gotten harder, many believe.

Oedekoven said people may be more disposed to fight arrest than in the past and to that end, being in a better shape — overall — is better for the officer and better for the public they are sworn to protect.

“People are more willing to stab you, shoot you, run over you, and that was unheard of years ago for the most part,” he said. “I think officers are very conscious of their physical fitness having a significant impact on their ability to survive and do the job.”

Problem in Wyoming?

Former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak said law enforcement officers are in better shape now than they were 30 years ago because staying in shape has become so much a part of the culture.

At the Cheyenne Police Department, he said, that culture is so important that officers are paid to workout.

“We allowed on-duty training, workout training for one hour each shift,” Kozak said. “It’s a great incentive.”

He said there is annual testing and a recognition program for those who had improved the most year-over-year. It’s a carrot rather than a stick approach, he said.

“This is all positive reenforcement,” he said. “And that makes the difference.”

As for the stigma of cops in donut shops? That’s gone by the wayside, he said.

“I don’t think you’ll see that much of it anymore,” Kozak said. “We don’t like the stereotype. We’ll laugh at it. We’ll make fun of it. But you don’t see it much anymore.”

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Laramie County Sheriff’s Dept Down 47 Deputies; Former Police Chief Blames Leadership

in Law enforcement/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 25% of the deputy’s positions in one of Wyoming’s largest sheriff’s departments are vacant and a former Cheyenne police chief is blaming the shortage on a problem with leadership.

The Laramie County Sheriff’s Office force is down by 47 deputies, more than 25% of its deputy positions. Eight positions filled by civilians are also vacant, former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak, now a candidate for sheriff, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

“Many of the deputies have reached out to me saying they’re leaving because of leadership issues within the agency,” Kozak said. “Several of them who have left have asked if we would consider hiring them back if there are leadership changes.”

Kozak added that current department staff have also asked whether he would consider re-hiring them if they were to quit now and return if he is elected sheriff in November’s election.

Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick, sheriff’s Capt. Don Hollingshead and community relations manager Brandon Warner did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

Glick is retiring at the end of his term. In addition to Kozak, Hollingshead is also running for the office.

Kozak said that the issues within the department seem to have gotten worse since he was ousted as chief when Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins took office last year.

“I know Sheriff Glick is retiring and I have a suspicion that he’s maybe backed out a little bit to let his captains run the show,” Kozak said. “I think that’s when the issues started to appear.”

According to a Laramie County human resources survey conducted in 2021 and shared by Kozak, 55% of the sheriff department’s staff did not believe management takes employee feedback seriously, 62% believed the environment in the department did not encourage high morale and the same percentage also believed leadership did not communicate with employees. The survey showed 64% of employees believed the department’s leadership did not apply policies consistently.

“I’ve heard from employees that there are unfair disciplinary processes where different things happen to different employees according to who you are,” Kozak said. “Their ideas aren’t appreciated for improvements. Someone will stick around for pay, knowing it’s going to get better. So it’s more than just compensation.”

The majority of surveyed employees also said they were not compensated fairly, but Kozak said that Glick was working with Laramie County Commissioners to rectify the salary issue.

The department is actually down one one deputy in addition to the 47 vacant positions. The deputy has been off duty since being shot in a standoff on April 2.

Kozak noted that the cost to recruit and train a new deputy can cost up to $100,000.

The former police chief said it was important for people to know about the deputy shortage in the sheriff’s department because response times can be significantly delayed as a result.

“Half the deputies [gone] are from patrol and the other half are from the detention facility,” Kozak said. “So on the patrol side, they may only have three or four deputies working at night and they’re covering 2,500 square miles of county. It could take a while for a deputy to get to you if you need help.”

On the detention side, the short staffing means inmates are indirectly supervised and usually locked down for longer times because there are not enough deputies to watch them.

If elected, Kozak said he would change the leadership culture in the department immediately, because he said that the best way to recruit for the agency is through the employees within it.

“It’s important to make sure employees know you’re working for them on their behalf to make the environment better,” he said.

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Wyoming Deputy’s Shooting A Reminder Of Dangers Faced By Law Enforcement Officers

in Law enforcement/News
Photo by Andrew Harrer - Pool/Getty Images
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The shooting of a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy is bringing attention to the dangers that peace officers face every day.

The deputy, whose identity has not been released, was reported to be in stable condition after being taken to the intensive care unit at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment after he was wounded in a shootout with another man Saturday. The other man died in the incident.

While rare, such incidents have an impact on law enforcement officers throughout the state, said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

“Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of events happen very often,” he said.

While the officer in Saturday’s incident survived, that’s not always the case. 

Since Wyoming became a state in 1890, 60 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which keeps records for law enforcement deaths throughout the country. The majority of those killed – 36 out of the 60 – died by gunfire.

Oedekoven told Cowboy State Daily that when a law enforcement officer dies or is injured while performing his or her duties, it hits the entire peacekeeping force.

“It’s a family; it’s a neighborhood, it’s a community,” he said. “It’s all of those words in very positive terms. We come together because it’s a shared experience. It’s a shared emotion. It’s that shared grief.”

Oedekoven said his association works with all other law enforcement agencies throughout the state when tragedies occur.

“Several years ago, we worked with a number of agencies to develop a plan for a checklist on officer-involved situations,” he said. “We know about federal death benefits, state death benefits, to whom to notify where those may be so that we can assess the value and assist the agency as well.”

Oedekoven has had personal experience with officer-involved shootings and the death of an officer under his command. 

On Dec. 20, 1983, Officer Jon Hardy was on duty in Gillette when he was ambushed after responding to the scene of a residential burglary. Oedekoven, who was Hardy’s patrol lieutenant, said that tragedy has never left him.

“There’s a whole flurry of emotions, mostly incredible sadness,” he said. “There’s the incredible desire to do right by the family and the memory of Jon, in my case; and to deal with some of the aspects of the investigation to ensure that that’s handled properly.”

Oedekoven noted that in his current position, when high-profile incidents occur, his agency works with other peace officer training organizations to incorporate lessons from tragic situations and turn them into learning opportunities.

“That is part of the discussion that we have with our Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Peace Officer Standards and Training, and the leadership of the sheriffs and chiefs to see if there are things that we should be working on, looking at and undertaking to help understand and deal with for the future,” he said.

Oedekoven pointed out that because the majority of Wyoming communities are smaller and more rural, there is more of a sense of support for law enforcement officers than in other parts of the country.

“In Wyoming, we’re very fortunate in that our law enforcement officers are close to the community, and our community is close to our law enforcement officers,” said Oedekoven. “We have incredible support from the community, to the officer’s family, to agents that the officer works for and for the agency.”

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Legislators Concerned Police Put Themselves Above The Law; Prosecutors Disagree

in News/Legislature
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming prosecutors would not hesitate to press charges against police officers who violate state law, according to the president of the Wyoming County Attorneys Association.  

John Worrall, Washakie County’s attorney, took exception Friday to statements made during a debate over a firearms rights bill that prosecutors would hesitate to file charges against police who violated the law by enforcing unconstitutional firearms rules.

“I know of not a single county attorney in this state that isn’t going to prosecute a violation of law if one is demonstrated – whoever it is that committed that violation,” he said.  

The issue stemmed from debate over Senate File 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” which won final approval from the Legislature this week. 

The bill will prohibit state or local law enforcement officers from enforcing unconstitutional rules and regulations having to do with firearms. Any officer who violates the law could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $2,000 and sentenced to up to one year in jail.

During the House SAPA debate on Wednesday, Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, said he doubted county prosecutors would be willing to charge police officers under the new law.  

Wharff recounted two anecdotal examples in which, he said, prosecutors refused to charge officers implicated in wrongdoing.  

“Individuals went to their local county attorneys and asked for assistance,” said Wharff, “and in both instances they were told ‘I can’t help you; I have to work with those guys; I can’t bring charges against them.’” 

In a later interview with Cowboy State Daily, Wharff described the instances in greater detail – saying one was a thwarted cattle theft investigation and one was a failure to prosecute Highway Patrol agents for allegedly forging a false accident report. Wharff said he knows both alleged victims personally.  

Hearsay 

Worrall told Cowboy State Daily that without more information, Wharff’s claims of prosecutorial negligence should be considered “hearsay.”  

“I know of no legal exceptions to hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay – which is what Representative Wharff was quoted as saying in the debate in the Legislature,” said Worral. “If the people who claim (they were wronged by county attorneys) want to step up and be identified, that would be something to talk about.”  

Worrall also insisted that as far as he knows, the prosecutors of Wyoming would not hesitate to press charges against law violators, regardless of status.  

“We investigate (alleged crimes by) law enforcement all the time,” said Worrall. “Throughout our state, the various prosecutors – and I know of these things because I’ve done a few myself – we refer any of that stuff to outside counsel: an outside attorney who has no dog in the fight, to review whether somebody has done something incorrect or not.”  

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun also told Cowboy State Daily that he would be willing to file charges under SAPA.  

“If it’s an intentional violation, that clearly violates the statute, yes, I’ll prosecute it. But like anything else, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or not,” said LeBrun. 

He added that because of the way people in Fremont County vote, “This is not a place where (gun-grabbing) is an issue. That just doesn’t happen in Fremont County.”  

Fremont, like Niobrara, Johnson, Hot Springs, and other Wyoming counties, has proclaimed itself a Second Amendment sanctuary county.  

Prosecutorial Discretion 

Rep. Dan Laursen R-Powell, also worried aloud Wednesday that county attorneys may not charge their law enforcement colleagues for gun-rights infringements.  

Laursen clarified in a later interview that state law enforcement of COVID health orders contributed to his outlook.  

“They went overboard, and we shouldn’t have allowed it,” Laursen told Cowboy State Daily.   

 Wharff, Laursen and Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, were all supporters of a similar bill, SF87, which would have allowed residents to sue law enforcement officers if they felt those officers enforced rules or regulations that unconstitutionally infringed on Second Amendment rights.

All three urged the House to vote against SF102, saying it was weak in its protection of Second Amendment rights.

Law enforcement organizations across the state had supported SF102 rather than SF87.

Fortner, during floor debate, referenced a “lobbying group” working on behalf of law enforcement to oppose gun bills like SF 87 because “they thought police officers and the sheriffs of the state – all the law enforcement – should have an upper hand to control we the people.”  

But Rep. John Bear countered Fortner’s statements, saying law enforcement agents are generally accountable to the people they serve.   

He also warned legislators against speaking badly of Wyoming’s law enforcement officers.

“We need to be careful that we don’t become like the crowd that wants to defund the police – and that’s what this sounds like,” he said. 

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Trooper Discusses Heartbreak After Fatal Crash Of Teenage Siblings From Lovell

in Law enforcement/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

Emergency responders in Wyoming are increasingly reaching out for help after traumatic or stressful experiences, breaking the stigma that used to be attached to such assistance.

After the tragic death earlier this month of two teenage siblings near Powell, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Randy Davis took to Facebook to express his feelings about working a crash scene involving two young people he knew personally. 

“In this job, we see a lot of things that most people don’t have to see, and we deal with a lot of things that most people don’t have to deal with,” Davis told his Facebook followers. “Normally, we say, ‘Well, it’s part of the job.’ We try not to let it bother us.” 

“The difference in this one was, I knew these two kids, I know their family, I’ve gone to church with them and their family,” he continued. “And it hits you a little differently sometimes when you’re close to the situation.”  

Davis went on to urge his fellow officers and first responders to seek help when they feel overwhelmed – a topic he expanded on in a conversation with Cowboy State Daily. 

“I think the old school way of thinking of, you know, you’ve got to tough it out, you can’t let your feelings show, you’ve got to be able to be that tough guy, or my coworkers are going to make fun of me if I feel like I need to reach out for help – I think that’s still in some departments, probably,” Davis said. “But we’re pretty fortunate here in the Highway Patrol now that they make (assistance) available to us.”

One way the Highway Patrol supports its staff is through an Employee Assistance Program, which allows troopers to access mental health care anonymously. 

Treatment Necessary to Recover

Lorraine Steppe, a licensed clinical social worker with The Pines Counseling in Cody, is part of that network. 

“I think most of the law enforcement agencies in the state have some type of program, where they anonymously can plug you into counselors, and you don’t have to pay for it, and you get so many sessions, and your bosses never know who’s sought treatment,” Steppe said. 

“We’re increasing the amount of people who are seeking out and finding some healing,” she added. “And sometimes the help can be talking to other law enforcement people, talking to friends and family, there’s a lot of ways you can have support.” 

Steppe pointed out that increasingly, first responders are encouraging each other to seek help when needed. 

“What I am seeing is they are talking to each other about it, they are encouraging each other to seek help, they are supporting each other in their health,” she said. “They’re even taking each other to appointments. There is a lot of talk and support around normalizing seeking mental health treatment. And it is something that we haven’t seen in years.” 

“I honestly can’t count on, probably, two hands the other troopers or officers that have either messaged me or reached out and said, ‘Hey, man, you doing OK?’” Davis said of the recent tragedy. “So I think some of that mentality is, thankfully, starting to go away.” 

“What you’re seeing, I think, is a change in how people are viewing, and seeking mental health,” Steppe said. 

Need For Trauma Specialists

Brian Kozak, the former police chief for the City of Cheyenne, said that in his early years in law enforcement, he saw firsthand the damage stress and trauma could inflict on first responders. 

“I used to work for the Mesa, Arizona, police department,” he said. “And it was a fairly large department, but I lost a few people that I worked with to suicide. A couple of my sergeants, and one in my command when I was a lieutenant.” 

Kozak said in part because of those experiences, he implemented support programs in the Cheyenne Police Department when he led that division. 

“When I came to Cheyenne to be chief, one of the first things we implemented was a very robust peer support team, which was led by a police psychologist,” he said. “The police psychologist would do training with all the officers on stress management at least twice a year.” 

Law Enforcement Suicides

However, Kozak said that attitude isn’t necessarily present in every first responder agency in Wyoming, which is why he is hosting two fundraisers this spring to raise money for wellness programs focused on preventing suicides. 

“In 2020, we lost two police officers to suicide – one in Casper and one in the Douglas Police Department,” he said. “And I think now it’s starting to hit home with first responders and law enforcement in the state that this is something we need to really talk about. Don’t be afraid anymore. Let’s talk about suicide, and how do we fight suicide. 

“You know, it’s tough with law enforcement,” Kozak added. “You know, you tend to suck it up and deal with the things that you see, but that builds up over the years. And that’s why we really have to promote that, you need to get it off your chest and start talking about it.” 

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Increasing Law Enforcement Calls Put Strain On Wyoming Officers

in News/Crime
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Law enforcement agencies throughout the state are reporting significant increases in the number of calls they have responded to over the last year.

That extra load means an increase in stress for those who are sworn “to protect and serve,” even in a state as supportive of law enforcement as Wyoming.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, said the same factors affecting people nationally are putting additional strains on Wyoming residents, which results in increased tensions and increases in law enforcement calls.

“We’re very fortunate that we are in Wyoming in the first place, and that we enjoy the community support that we do,” Oedekoven said. “Unfortunately, with COVID, with the lockdowns in other areas, the stress that it puts on families here and their extended families, it’s taking a toll on us as well,” he continued. “The uncertainty to the economy and the whole infrastructure issues that are going on; the war on the west, the war on petroleum, which makes some of the job market uncertain, which again, leads to that family stress – in a lot of cases, that leads to increased law enforcement calls.”

“In 2020, the total calls to the dispatcher — and that’s everything from dog calls to, you know, ‘I ran off the road’ — was about 34,995 calls,” said Sheriff Steve Rakness in Washakie County. “Last year, for 2021, we had 39,463 calls.

“We had a total increase in drug calls,” Rakness continued. “Those have increased – and juveniles are committing more crimes. I’ve had in 2021 more juveniles in my jail being charged with adults than ever with capital crimes, high felonies.”

“We have had more use of force incidents in the last year than we’ve had in multiple years combined,” said Ken Blackburn, sheriff of Big Horn County. “And a lot of that is just the divisive nature of our community and of society right now.”

Gun violence has increased in rural counties, as well, sheriffs said.

“More people have guns,” Rakness said. “That puts all law enforcement in jeopardy.”

Just last month, in the tiny town of Basin (population less than 1,400), a police officer shot the Basin School District’s special education director, who was making suicidal threats and carrying an automatic weapon. That sort of call doesn’t happen often in rural communities – and when it does, it takes a psychological toll on the officer as well as the town’s residents.

“We’ve had two officer-involved shootings in the Bighorn Basin this year, and I want to say four homicides in Big Horn County in the last year,” Blackburn said. “I couldn’t even begin to count the number of increased domestic violence situations, which is already fairly high, but I believe has been exacerbated by the climate of the last two years.” Blackburn pointed out that criminal activity that originates outside the state’s borders is beginning to have a larger impact on Wyoming.

“Some of the drugs that are coming into the state are really quite dangerous,” he said. “There are new drugs coming into the area, this Mexican fentanyl is coming in. And they’re so powerful — we’ve had three or four incidents just in Big Horn County of fatalities this year, of people having to be resuscitated because the drug was so damaging so quickly to them, and it stopped their breathing.”

“The prevalence of drugs, the carriers and the gangs, the cartels are marketing those drugs through their newly established travel routes over the border,” said Oedekoven. “When you can see million-dollar seizures of drugs in Wyoming, that’s huge. That’s a significant impact. And yet, we’ve cut back and reduced the number of officers working those kinds of cases.”

Those budget cuts are affecting more than just high-profile cases, according to Blackburn, who blames the “de-fund the police” movement and other anti-government sentiments for some of the issues facing law enforcement.

“We’re caught in the public opinion between ‘We don’t want government,’ and yet when they dial 911 they expect someone to be there immediately,” Blackburn said. “And it’s kind of a Catch-22.”Oedekoven added that it’s not just budget cuts causing a reduction in law enforcement staffing — it’s harder to find qualified recruits.

“The average person is unsure that they would like to start a career in law enforcement,” Oedekoven said. “And then there’s folks who are applying for positions within law enforcement who are clearly not qualified. And in part, I think it’s because they see some of the antics of some of the officers on the East and the West coasts.”

“Hiring somebody is like pulling teeth from a dragon,”  Rakness said. “We just can’t find anybody to work.” 

Blackburn pointed out that smaller officer numbers didn’t used to be a problem.

“We’ve always been able to get by with less officers, because we were able to handle that call volume,” he said. “But that call volume is increasing so significantly that the officers are working overtime to try to keep up with the call volume and the call load, and it’s wearing them out and burning them out.”

Blackburn said he and his fellow law enforcement officers are frustrated by the mixed messages they receive from the public.

“When I first started law enforcement, we were kind of the good guys,” he said. “And this culture of anti-law enforcement and police reforms, even though we don’t see it as much in Wyoming as we see around the nation, those comments are still very, very hard. And I would venture that at least 80% of law enforcement officers get involved because they want to make a difference, and they want to help people. And that feeling that we’re not wanted, has been exacerbated by this counterculture in America right now.”

Blackburn said there are many residents who show support for law enforcement — but those are offset by others who are critical of police and sheriff’s departments.

“There are those times when we go and our team is scratching their heads, wondering sometimes why we’re doing this,” he said, “because we’re kind of between a rock and a hard spot. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t, and it becomes a very frustrating position.

”Low officer pay affects morale as well, according to Blackburn.

“There are a lot of positions out there that pay just as much money that don’t require the sacrifice, the difficult hours or the risk,” he said. “And it takes its toll emotionally – we’ve certainly seen that with multiple law enforcement suicides in the last year.”

But Blackburn pointed out that some officers cope with that stress by going above and beyond to take care of those in their communities.

“Near Christmas, when all these other agencies have given out their gifts, we invariably hear about some family that comes on the hardest of times and they slip through the cracks,” he said. “And that’s one of the ways that (officers) cope – by giving service.”

Blackburn said that despite the hardships of the job, the vast majority of law enforcement officers around the state are hard working and dedicated.

“We’re not whining about it,” he said. “We know we knew what the job was when we took it, and these guys are working really hard. And there are bad cops out there, but there are a lot of really, really great things that these guys do day in and day out that nobody ever sees.” 

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Wyo Top Cop Says Wyoming Won’t Ban Traffic Stops Like Philadelphia

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will probably never entertain the idea of stopping all low-level traffic stops by law enforcement officers, according to the leader of a group that represents the state’s sheriffs and chiefs of police.

Philadelphia recently enacted an ordinance banning low-level traffic stops in the city, but Byron Oedekoven, a former Campbell County sheriff and executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chief of police, said he does not expect such a development in Wyoming.

Oedekoven told Cowboy State Daily that most low-level traffic stops are related to safety issues, such as letting drivers know they have a headlight or brake light out.

“I would argue that the Cheyenne police probably wishes they were doing more low-level stops, since they’ve had a few people struck while going through crosswalks,” he said Wednesday.

Oedekoven said he could see such legislation popping up in cities where the concept of defunding the police has been popular.

Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed the Driving Equity Act, making Philadelphia the first major city in the U.S. to ban low-level traffic stops. The law, which also requires city police to gather and publicly release data on traffic stops, goes into effect early next year, according to NPR.

The outlet also reported that the new legislation bans stops for:

  • Driving with a single broken brake light
  • Driving with a single headlight
  • Having a registration plate that’s not clearly displayed, fastened, or visible
  • Driving without an inspection or emissions sticker
  • Bumper issues
  • Minor obstructions (like something hanging from a rearview mirror)
  • Driving without vehicle registration within 60 days of the observed infraction

Although low-level offenses will no longer lead to interactions between police and drivers, infractions such as this will still result in a ticket that is either left on the driver’s windshield or mailed. The Philadelphia Police Department helped write the legislation and supported the ban.

NPR also reported that numerous studies show that Black drivers get pulled over for low-level infractions more often than other drivers in the United States and that civil rights groups often decry such stops as cover for racial profiling or fishing for more serious crimes.

Oedekoven noted that many years ago, vehicle inspection stations were common, providing a place where people could have their car’s headlights, brake lights and windshield wipers checked and have other minor maintenance completed.

“Then, everybody declared that they didn’t want to burden garages with this because people didn’t want to pay for maintenance,” he said. “So everybody was on the honor system to have a safe vehicle. So these low-level stops are just officers saying, ‘Hey, did you know your headlight’s out?'”

He also noted that many low-level traffic stops in Wyoming, especially along Interstate 80, can lead officers to uncover more significant crimes. As an example, he pointed to incidents when someone pulled over for speeding or having a broken brake light might be found to be transporting drugs.

“That guy you pulled over for speeding that’s driving the ‘loaner car’ and doesn’t know what’s in the trunk is actually hauling $1 million worth of fentanyl,” he said.

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Unlike Many Major Cities, Law Enforcement Officers In Wyoming Feel Appreciated

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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.”

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Cheney Slams Biden, Pelosi For Not Speaking Out Against Defunding The Police

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In signing a pledge offering “unwavering” support for America’s police officers, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney blasted former Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not condemning the “Defund The Police” movement.

“I proudly signed Heritage Action’s ‘Police Pledge,’ which states that we unequivocally support our police officers & will oppose any effort to defund them,” Cheney tweeted. “Our police officers in Wyoming & across the country are heroes & they deserve to be treated as such.”

“Democrats like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who don’t speak out against the reckless campaign to ‘defund’ our police, are irresponsible and dangerous,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time Cheney slammed Pelosi this week. On Wednesday, Cheney took a swipe against the House Speaker for using a hair salon in San Francisco when all hair salons are supposed to be closed due to the pandemic.

“Hairpocrisy,” Cheney tweeted while posting a story of Pelosi’s ill-fated trip.

In related news, President Trump on Friday received an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Public safety will undoubtedly be a main focus for voters in this year’s election,” a spokesman for the organization said. “Look at what the national discourse has focused on for the last six months. President Trump has shown time after time that he supports our law enforcement officers and understands the issues our members face every day.”

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Parents Accidentally Abandon Child On Interstate 80

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It was kind of like the movie “Home Alone.”

The parents think all of the children are on board for a vacation until they find out that their youngest was left home, well, alone.

Similar situation for a Rock Springs couple over the weekend.

The parents of a 9-year-old were driving in separate vehicles when one of them experienced a flat-tire.

They fixed the tire, got back in their vehicles, and took-off.

Only problem was, each parent thought the child was with the other parent. Instead, he was left out on Interstate 80 by himself.

If it were like movies, the “wet bandits” would have attempted to pick him up before getting blowtorched or hit in the face with an iron.

Instead, the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported a passing motorist saw the child, picked him up, and took him to the Green River Police Department.

“Troopers were able to safely reunite the child with his family after determining there were no underlying suspicious circumstances,” the Highway Patrol said in a release.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of the Green River Police Department, responding troopers, and the act of the good Samaritans who stopped when they saw the young boy on the side of the road, this situation ended well,” they said.

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National Trucking Company Announces They Won’t Deliver to Towns That Defund The Police; Wyoming Likely Unaffected

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A national trucking company announced on Wednesday that it would no longer deliver to any municipalities that are pushing to defund the police.

A cursory examination of city council action in the cowboy state shows that Wyoming would likely not be affected by the announcement although protestors in Laramie and Jackson have vocally supported the anti-law enforcement sentiment.

Mike Kucharski, owner of JKC Trucking, told FOX News that defunding police is an awful idea as the cargo on its trucks are prime targets for thieves.

“Our first priority is to support our drivers and their safety when they are on the road,” Kucharski said.

He said a secondary concern was over insurance and whether he would have coverage in areas that defund the police.

“Another issue that I am seeing in the future is I have cargo insurance, liability insurance, fiscal damage insurance, and I am very curious how when I renew my contracts at the end of the year, if there is going to be language — if I am going to even have coverage going into these places,” Kucharski said.

Although nothing official has happened in Laramie and Jackson, protestors in both towns have actively supported the concept of defunding or dismantling law enforcement.

One protest group in Laramie suggested reallocating some police funds to pay for “local school lunch debt.”

The organization also petitioned for “an immediate hiring freeze” of police officers, with the overall goal being to reduce the number of law enforcement officers in the community.

In Jackson, the group Act Now JH said its focus was “defunding the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and funding organizations that contribute to the well-being of our community.”

“We’re not trying to get rid of all police officers immediately. We’re advocating for equitable emergency response,” said a spokesman for the group.

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Barrasso: Defunding Police Is Dangerous Idea; Invites Crime Without Punishment

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Sen John Barrasso on Tuesday said the calls by some to defund the police are misguided and added that, if anything, more resources should to go law enforcement.

Speaking on Fox News, Barrasso said defunding the police would make things less safe for Wyoming and American citizens.

“When I hear this call by Democrats all across the country to defund the police, to me that is dangerous,” Barrasso said.  “That is dangerous. That is inviting crime without punishment.  The police have a vital role as public servants. Lots of responsibility to provide safety and security.”

“As opposed to taking resources away, I think they may need more — more for training. There is a lot of improvement that needs to be done and I think they need more resources to get that done,” he said.

Barrasso said lasting, bipartisan solutions are necessary to ensure equal justice is carried out for all citizens.

To that end, he suggested the creation of a national databank to ensure that police officers who have a bad record can’t jump from one location to another.

“I’m a doctor. We created a national databank for physicians to make sure they couldn’t go from state-to-state,” he said. “We need bipartisan lasting solutions and Republicans are committed to doing that.”

Barrasso said he would be in favor of calling the bipartisan legislation the “George Floyd” act.

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