Community Police

Casper Police Sgt. Joey Wilhelm reads over a briefing Sept. 29 at a change of shift meeting. An external review offered suggestions for how to improve the police department.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

The Casper Police Department should fill open command staff positions, train command staff to investigate internal affairs and upgrade the department’s facilities, according to an independent review of the agency released Friday.

Department morale and perception have improved since a tumultuous spring, the 155-page report produced by a third party, indicates.

The report notes that more than a quarter of police command positions were unfilled. A similar vacancy rate was noted for the the dispatch center. Patrol staff was operating with an 11 percent vacancy rate, though three recruits are in the academy now. Another batch of recruits will be entering the academy in January.

The report notes that an internal affairs investigation can be assigned to any command-line officer or sergeant, but that many in command staff are not trained to conduct such investigations. Only two commanding officers have attended internal affairs school, the report found.

“Sending these personnel to the training would provide them with the needed knowledge to complete the investigations legally and completely,” the report states.

The report describes the department’s headquarters as poorly laid out, because it was not designed as a police facility. The evidence facility should have greater security, the report states, noting that there is no video surveillance of the evidence locker.

The report also indirectly references the ousting of former police Chief Jim Wetzel, saying that staff indicated they “have noted positive changes in the department” since a leadership change in May.

Wetzel was replaced by Interim Chief Steve Schulz. The city has never explained the reason behind Wetzel’s dismissal.

A police department spokesman said late Friday afternoon that Schulz was unavailable to comment on the report.

Casper City Manager Carter Napier said that he did not know if it would be possible to implement all 75 recommendations in the report, which he described as “practical suggestions.” The city is not bound to follow the report’s recommendations.

Napier said that he would like to prioritize filling open patrol positions over those at the command level, saying that he did not want to overwork officers and put them at risk of burnout. He would also like to see improvements to police facilities, but he doesn’t know how the city would pay for them.

“That shouldn’t mean we shouldn’t make long-term plans,” Napier said.

The city’s budget is approximately $4 million in the red, pending the approval of an amendment Napier says would balance the budget.

City Councilman Chris Walsh said he had received a copy of the report mid-afternoon Friday and was not ready to comment on it. Walsh served as police chief prior to Wetzel.

“I haven’t even had a chance to read it,” Walsh said.

The review has been in the works since March, when former City Manager V.H. McDonald and Wetzel asked Casper City Council for funds to hire an outside agency.

In the five weeks between the project’s proposal and approval, a survey of police department employees revealed a morale crisis within the department, City Council members called for investigation into department leadership, McDonald retired, a council member resigned and two-thirds of all officers voted that they had no confidence in Wetzel.

The contractor handling the review, the Center for Public Safety Management, conducted a two-part review, consisting of data analysis focusing on officers’ workload, deployment and response times, followed by citizen input and a site visit by CPSM analysts.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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