A week ago, our community was stunned when a man shot a Casper police officer multiple times during what first appeared to be a minor traffic complaint.
Two officers approached a man who was letting young children drive his car around a vacant lot. Video footage shows the man slowly backing away from the officers, and when one reaches for him, he draws a gun and begins shooting. They ducked for cover, but one officer, Jacob Carlson, was hit five times.
The two officers shot and killed the man, David Wolosin. Carlson, meanwhile, lost a lot of blood and was taken to Wyoming Medical Center in critical condition. He has since undergone multiple surgeries.
The Casper community rallied around the injured officer. They donated blood, raised money and turned out at a gathering across from the hospital. We were all saddened and horrified that something like this could happen here.
Casper residents deserve praise for their response to this disturbing event. So does the Casper Police Department. Because in the wake of the most painful event for police in some time, the department made a consistent effort to be open and transparent with the public.
Police Chief Keith McPheeters held multiple press conferences to share what happened and how the injured officer was doing. He released dash-cam footage of the incident to the media that allowed the public to watch the entire horrific scene unfold.
The harrowing footage is hard to watch. But it’s important.
For one, when police officers use deadly force, some people in the community will ask questions. In the absence of good information, rumors will inevitably crop up. But when police release video and answer questions, people will better understand what happened, diminishing speculation and innuendo.
It’s also the right thing to do. Police are, after all, public servants. And when their jobs require them to use deadly force, it’s incumbent on them to keep the public informed as much as reasonably possible.
Additionally, the footage gives the public insight into an officer’s experience. It can be easy in a community like Casper to take law enforcement for granted; we’re relatively insulated from the violent crime that some communities are accustomed to.
But police officers risk their lives every day. And it’s important that we remember that.
Last week’s shootout wasn’t the first example of Chief McPheeter’s efforts toward transparency.
In February, when a man wielding a sword was shot and killed by police, footage that the department released helped to clear the air; by releasing the footage to the media and to the public, McPheeters gave the public a chance to see what happened for themselves, to help them understand what drove the police to take the action they did.
Releasing footage won’t necessarily eliminate all questions. But transparency will in the long term build confidence and trust.
And don’t forget, one of the primary beneficiaries of transparency is the officers themselves. Because with it comes the capacity for empathy. We doubt there’s a person who could watch the dash-cam footage of that shootout last weekend and not feel compassion for the officers.
We hope other Wyoming law enforcement agencies follow the lead of the Casper Police Department. We recognize that some could be reticent to release such information, fearing it will stir emotions in the community and cause trouble. But the two recent examples show that transparency and communication are critical to a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.