About two-thirds of Casper police officers voted against police Chief Jim Wetzel’s leadership in a “no confidence” vote held late last week.
Sixty officers voted that they had no confidence in Wetzel’s leadership, three voted that they did have confidence and 10 officers abstained from voting, according to a copy of a letter from the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police to the chief. The 60 officers who voted against the chief represent almost two-thirds of the department’s 94 current sworn employees.
The letter states that the lodge, composed of 73 active Casper police officers, considered two options: continue working to improve communications with Wetzel or pursue a “change of leadership in the department.” The formal vote indicates that the lodge wants to change its leadership, and the lodge requested Wetzel’s resignation at the end of the letter.
“All members of the (Fraternal Order of Police) Lodge #6 remain steadfast in their commitment to the citizens of Casper,” the letter states. “The result of this Vote of No Confidence is indicative of the officers’ commitment to excellence in their service to the community. Casper Police FOP Lodge #6 and its members wish you well in your future endeavors. However, we respectfully request you resign and allow new leadership to take the helm of the Casper Police Department.”
Wetzel did not respond to an email sent early Monday afternoon requesting comment for this story. Nor did he immediately respond to a phone message left late Monday afternoon. In past interviews, Wetzel said he would work on communicating better but also described a “clash of cultures” as he’s worked to make changes within the department since becoming chief three years ago.
According to the letter, this is the second time in 34 years that a Wyoming lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police cast a vote of no confidence, though the vote holds no legal power.
“This action is the culmination of numerous prior attempts to resolve differences between officers and staff of the Casper Police Department with Chief Wetzel, Human Resources, and the City Manager’s Office,” the letter states. “Issues and concerns pertaining to the department have been refuted, disregarded, and ignored.”
The letter then lists three areas of concern: the chief’s hiring practices, his “ethical leadership and practices” and his “failure to establish direction and vision of the department.” The letter makes a number of specific allegations, many of which could not be independently verified by the Star-Tribune.
Among other concerns, the lodge alleged that Wetzel:
- did not follow hiring policies by hiring people who failed pre-employment polygraph tests and before they completed background checks. The letter also said that he hired an outside person with no law enforcement experience to a command position in the department, which has damaged morale and limited opportunities for promotions.
- directed subordinates to “submit erroneous grant reimbursements with the intention of masking ineligible expenses.”
- attempted to create “a militaristic occupational force instead of a community partnership that addresses” Casper’s needs.
- created a burdensome bureaucracy that prohibits effective operations.
- reduced resources for training.
- sent an officer to a year-long training on “intelligence gathering” while the department’s patrol and investigations divisions are “critically understaffed.”
- ignored input from officers and others, including attempts to address detectives’ large case loads and low resources committed to domestic violence and sex crimes.
The news of the vote came about two weeks after the results of a survey of the department became public. The survey, which was completed by 84 of the department’s sworn and civilian employees, criticized the chief’s leadership style and alleged that city management did not address problems at the police department despite repeated complaints to human resources and the city manager’s office.
In response to the survey, City Council members called for an investigation into the department’s leadership and how city management handled the situation. Two days later, City Manager V.H. McDonald announced he would retire June 1. City Council met Monday afternoon in an executive session, which is closed to the public and news outlets. The session was called to discuss unspecified personnel issues, according to a city news release sent last week.After the meeting, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said the topics discussed during the executive session would be placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular Council meeting. She declined to elaborate further. Also Monday, former detective Wes Gudahl defended the chief in an email to council members and media.
In his email, Gudahl said he worked under five chiefs and that each had strengths and weaknesses. He credits Wetzel with dismantling a “good ol’ boy” system that “has allowed unprofessional behaviors, policy issue violations, unethical and immoral decisions to be treated as a rite of passage depending on who you know and are friends with.”
“While working for Chief Wetzel, I observed him to have professionalism, integrity, and a desire to effect the long needed cultural change at the Casper Police Department,” Gudahl wrote.
He urged City Council and city management to wait for the formal independent review of the department to be completed before making any decisions. McDonald requested the review in March, and the Council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its meeting Tuesday.
Gudahl criticized the survey conducted by the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police and said it did not take into account personal biases and grudges against the chief. He said a majority of the board of the local lodge dislike the chief and alleges that they may have swayed other officers. He said that some officers believe the survey was a “hatchet job” and slanted against the chief from the beginning.
“I urge the community, (Council), and media to recognize there are two sides to every story,” he wrote. “Chief Wetzel is often not able to tell his side due to legal restraints. Exercise wisdom and wait your decision to ‘tar and feather’ him until after the formal ‘Independent Comprehensive Analysis’ has been made.”
City Council member Amanda Huckabay responded to Gudahl’s email and said that council had been hearing from people who both oppose and support Wetzel.
“I acknowledge that there are two sides to every story, and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle,” she wrote. “My hope is that as a city, we can get to the bottom of the public safety issues (not only in PD, but other areas as well) and resolve them quickly and effectively.”