Thursday morning, Casper resident Georgia Hans saw the dirt in her backyard for the first time in roughly 20 years.
“It was buried by all the stuff my husband had accumulated,” she said, explaining that he was a demolitionist. “He brought back anything he thought he could sell or recycle. Lumber, windows, sinks, you name it.”
After her husband died six years ago, Hans said she was unable to remove the rubble herself. Her backyard remained unusable — until a handful of officers from the Casper Police Department volunteered to clear it Thursday.
The police department felt it would be an excellent opportunity to give back, according to Detective John Hatcher, the public affairs officer.
“It is our intent to do a couple of these service projects every year as a goodwill gesture to our community,” Hatcher wrote in a press release. “We are excited to show Casper a lighter side to their community guardians and hope we can make a difference in this citizen’s life.”
By noon, only some glass shards and a few piles of wooden boards remained in Hans’ backyard. But Police Chief Keith McPheeters — who was among those volunteering — said the debris was as high as the fence post when they first arrived at the north Casper residence.
The clutter made some home repairs difficult. Hans has been unable to fix her leaky roof because contractors couldn’t access the yard, McPheeters said.
The chief said the volunteers were happy to lend a hand. McPheeters, who was wearing khakis and a plaid flannel shirt, said he believes it’s important for residents to see the friendlier side of cops.
“This is our way to get our hands dirty and build good relationships,” he said.
Officers also wanted to take on a few community service projects this year to express gratitude to city residents for their recent support.
“We’ve faced some challenges this year,” McPheeters said. “2018 has been very unique, and the community has rallied around us.”
Among the department’s greatest challenges was nearly losing an officer last spring.
Officer Jacob Carlson was shot several times in a May 6 gunfight with David P. Wolosin in a dirt lot near Fairdale Park in east Casper. Carlson underwent multiple surgeries, received more than 100 units of blood and spent a month receiving care at Wyoming Medical Center.
The community didn’t hesitate to help the injured officer.
More than 500 people attended a rally for Carlson at Conwell Park last May. Casper’s United Blood Services clinic also experienced a flood of donations in his honor, and a GoFundMe fundraiser collected more than $35,000 for Carlson’s family.
“We are lucky to have a community that supports its police department through thick and thin,” McPheeters said Thursday.
Hans, who said she appreciated the volunteers, hopes that city residents will hear about the department’s community service projects and realize that cops do more than give out tickets or make arrests.
“The community needs to know that police are more than police — they’re humans like the rest of us,” she said. “I think this will make people realize that we should give the police props for what they do.”