Casper Police

Casper Police Department patrol vehicles sit in a city lot on West A Street in downtown Casper.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

After a rocky stretch, the Casper Police Department appears to be on the upswing.

The department began the year facing criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases. A few months later, it was rocked when the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police went public with allegations of morale issues stemming from then Chief Jim Wetzel’s leadership style. Wetzel was soon dismissed from his position for still unknown reasons.

The department lost its leader just as it was gearing up for a massive influx of visitors spurred by the Aug. 21 eclipse. But when the tourists arrived, police rose to the challenge, keeping tens of thousands of people safe and happy through four days of festivities. Since then, there have been more signs of improvement in the form of an initiative designed to strengthen ties between officers and the community they serve.

Now the department is at a critical juncture. City Manager Carter Napier has named four finalists for the chief’s job. They are Boise, Idaho police lieutenant Brett Quilter, former West Jordan, Utah police chief Drew Sanders, former Farmington, New Mexico deputy police chief Keith McPheeters and interim Casper police chief Steve Schulz.

It’s not an overstatement to say this decision will be one of the most important Napier will make in his first year as city manager. After all, there are few municipal responsibilities more critical than public safety.

We are heartened that the four finalists have experience managing a police force in Mountain West communities. The experience they’ve gathered will surely serve them if they are selected to oversee Casper’s police force.

Napier expects to make his pick by Nov. 10. We hope whomever he chooses will build on the progress that our community has seen in its police department over the past several months. The city manager would be wise to select a candidate with the ability to improve ties between police and the public even further.

We would like to see a chief who will communicate quickly, effectively and honestly with the citizens of Casper. The police department has made great strides in becoming a more transparent agency, posting more frequent and informative updates through social media. They’ve also created ways for people to easily share feedback about officers. This results in a better informed populace, while tamping down on unhelpful rumor and innuendo.

The new chief should also be effective at communicating with his own officers to avoid morale problems like those that surfaced this spring. The department needs a leader who can provide stability so that officers can perform their jobs effectively.

More than anything, the new chief needs to treat Casper not as a stepping stone to advance a career, but as a community with real value, and one worth committing to for the long haul. Our residents — and officers — deserve nothing less.

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Joshua Wolfson joined the Star-Tribune in 2007, covering crime and health before taking over the arts section in 2013. He also served as managing editor before being named editor in June 2017. He lives in Casper with his wife and their two kids.

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