Casper Police

A Casper police officer pulls out of the department’s garage at the Hall of Justice in downtown Casper. An outside review recommended the Casper Police Department make changes to how it handles internal investigations.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

An outside review of the Casper Police Department recommends allowing its Office of Professional Standards more time to investigate officer misconduct and dole out punishment.

The review calls for more officers to be trained to investigate allegations of officer misconduct, to extend the investigative time frame and do away with an unused disciplinary matrix that could make the department vulnerable to lawsuits.

The police department will not make any decisions regarding the review until City Manager Carter Napier names a permanent chief, a department spokesman said. Napier said he expects to name a new chief by the end of the month.

Interim Chief Steve Schulz is one of the finalists for the position.

The 155-page review is the result of work that began in March. It used data, officer interviews, a site visit and more to assess all aspects of the department, from the dispatch center to officer schedules. The review was released last month.

Lt. Shane Chaney, who heads up the office, said the recommendations in the review were expected, but the department had not been able to implement them prior to the review because of the city’s tight budget.

“I don’t think that there were too many surprises (in the report),” he said.

Existing process

Lower-level accusations of misconduct, such as speeding in a patrol vehicle, are typically handled by an officer’s sergeant. Most patrol sergeants aren’t trained to investigate serious officer misconduct, according to the report. If those complaints can be immediately addressed to the satisfaction of the person who brought them forward, they often aren’t entered into the department’s personnel software.

That is changing, Chaney said.

The lieutenant said long-standing policy allowed for the software to be bypassed. The department now instructs its sergeants to enter minor complaints into a secondary software system in order to keep track of such complaints when an officer changes supervisors.

The department is also in talks with a Connecticut lawyer who helps train law enforcement officers in various procedures, including internal affairs, Chaney said. The department has had difficulty making the class cost-effective due to the relatively small nature of the department and the cost of travel. There are no local experts in the field, Chaney said.

“That’s the struggle we have in Wyoming,” he said.

Current rules

The department’s rules require internal investigations be completed within two weeks. If a longer investigation is necessary, the office must request more time to complete it. The review board wrote that the current time frame is much shorter than those of other departments.

“Requiring administrative investigations to be completed within 14 days is extremely difficult if not impossible,” the report states.

Despite this, Chaney said most investigations are completed within the mandated time frame.

“I generally don’t ask for too many extensions,” he said.

The department established a codified disciplinary matrix under prior leadership. It mandates penalties based on the severity of the offense. But the chief, who assigns punishments, can disregard the matrix.

The matrix was never fully instituted and now is largely disregarded, Chaney said. He said the department often uses a system of graduated punishment, in which a veteran officer will be held to a higher standard than a rookie. After an officer has spent some time on the force, he or she “should know better” than a new officer, he said.

Although the matrix in question is not used, the review suggests that its very existence makes the department vulnerable to lawsuits. By formally abolishing the matrix, the department would then do away with potential legal liability that appears whenever the matrix is disregarded, the review states.

City Attorney Will Chambers said he hadn’t read the report and would be unable to comment on whether he thought the city was at risk of litigation related to police discipline procedures.

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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