City Manager John Patterson promoted Jim Wetzel to Casper police chief at a press conference this morning at City Hall.

Wetzel acknowledged the “unconventional” nature of promoting a sergeant to the top position in the force, but praised Patterson for looking at the whole picture.

Patterson said Wetzel’s title matters little when matched against his background. Wetzel is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps with 20 years of service. He fought in Fallujah, Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star, Patterson said.

“I just looked at his exercise of leadership. He commanded hundreds of people as a lieutenant colonel in many conditions – both combat and peacetime assignments,” Patterson said. “He earned a Bronze Star for his decision-making under fire, under very difficult circumstances. His rank, in this circumstance, mattered little.”

Besides, Wetzel's time in the Marines was the only reason he had not already accrued the tenure and promotions to become a lieutenant by now, Patterson added.

Former Police Chief Chris Walsh announced his retirement in November. The city advertised regionally and then, with the help of Walsh and a law enforcement organization, winnowed the pool of 56 candidates, Patterson said. The finalists went through a stringent panel interview process, including a community panel.

Wetzel’s community connection, leadership and vision made him the best candidate, Patterson said.

Wetzel is a Casper native with 15 years at the Casper Police Department as both a sergeant and a detective in investigations.

After presenting his wife and mother with flowers, Wetzel spoke easily and self-deprecatingly in front of a crowd of city staff and officials, media and supporters.

“If you had told me as a rabble-rouser in high school that I would be a police officer someday I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you,” Wetzel, who graduated from Kelly Walsh, joked. “If you had taken it one step further and told me I would be police chief, I would have asked what you are smoking.”

Wetzel said former police chief Chris Walsh “shaped and guided” his law enforcement career and he expects to continue many of Walsh’s initiatives under his tenure, although he didn’t elaborate.

Walsh left the force earlier this month after about two-and-a-half years as police chief. During his tenure, he initiated the car-per-officer program and staffed up the department.

Four of Natrona County's five law enforcement agency has seen leadership turnover in the last year.

Capt. Mark Trimble stepped in as interim chief the last few weeks.

Reach Tom Dixon at 307-266-0616 or tom.dixon@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DixonTrib.

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