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Police department review

Casper police chief Jim Wetzel listens Oct. 18 as victims of sexual abuse talk about their experiences during a Casper City Council meeting. The city manager, with Wetzel’s support, recently requested $53,000 for an independent review of the police department.

The Casper Police Department is reviewing its policy regarding sexual assault cases after multiple women criticized how the agency handled their cases, the police chief said Thursday.

Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel said that the department is reviewing how officers are supposed to handle cases involving sexual assault in response to the women’s statements, which came at City Council meetings. He said the department is pushing for better enforcement of existing policy and looking for areas where new policy could be developed.

“We’re in the process of further developing those policies,” he said.

For example, Wetzel said, there has been better enforcement of an existing policy that requires detectives to review a case and decide what the first step is in their investigation within seven days of being assigned the case. The chief said that policy wasn’t followed in at least one case that the women told city leadership about.

“It took upwards of three weeks,” he said.

Wetzel said the department has studied the changes the police department in Missoula, Montana, made to its policy after the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed how it handled sexual assault cases. The Casper Police Department is in the process of deciding which of those policies fit its needs.

“You can’t be flying by the seat of your pants, making ad hoc changes,” Wetzel said. Effective and responsible change takes time and review, he said; otherwise the policy becomes contradictory and has less meaning.

Meeting with reporters Thursday morning, Wetzel originally answered “yes” to a question asking whether the department had changed its policy regarding sexual assault. However, the department later clarified that no changes have been made but that the department is reviewing its existing policy.

Wetzel said that officers don’t mean to overlook or ignore victims but that officers are often overloaded with other cases. However, Wetzel added that a busy schedule is not an excuse for not following department policy or caring for victims’ needs.

“We’re really trying to put a better focus on the victims,” he said.

Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay, who has also criticized how the department treated victims of sexual assault, said the city council hadn’t heard anything about the department’s review of its policies and said Wetzel’s statements were “lip service.”

“I feel like if this were a genuine concern for (Wetzel), he would’ve been more proactive and transparent with council and the community rather than being on the defense,” Huckabay said.

She said women have continuously emailed her to express frustration about how the police department handled their sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Many of the women feel like they are not being heard or are afraid to come forward, she said.

More transparency from the police department about any changes to policy would help repair victims’ damaged trust, Huckabay said.

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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