Residents Want Resolution To Police Department Turmoil
Several area residents told city council Tuesday that Casper police officers should go elsewhere if they are unhappy with Chief Jim Wetzel's leadership.
"If they're really that discouraged with their job, life's too short," Dennis Steensland said during the council's public comment period.
"Quit. We'll get some more police officers," Steensland said.
Those residents also disparaged the Fraternal Order of Police survey of its members released April 4 that cited problems with morale, a large number of officers saying they want to quit, Wetzel's leadership, low staffing numbers, and the failure of former City Manager V.H. McDonald to follow through with a meeting of the department's command staff that aired these concerns.
Likewise, those area residents criticized the vote of no confidence in Wetzel.
In response to those actions, Wetzel has said he does not intend to resign.
The concerns have resulted in an internal investigation of the department conducted by local attorney Judith Studer, Interim City Manager Liz Becher said Tuesday. That internal investigation is nearing completion, Becher said.
Councilmember and former police chief Chris Walsh said the council also recently approved a $63,000 contract with the Center for Public Safety Management, LLC, for an independent comprehensive analysis of the department scheduled for completion in September.
During the public comment period, David McKenzie, Jr., defended the Fraternal Order of Police survey and the subsequent no confidence vote.
He asked if it was true that people who have repeatedly failed polygraph tests have been appointed over uniformed officers; if the no confidence vote was true; if 65 percent of the officers want to transfer or quit; and what council will do.
The city can solve these issues internally and does not need to hire an outside consultant, McKenzie said. He also suggest Wetzel be placed on leave until the issues are resolved.
However, Steensland said the council should put aside the public debate about the department until the external study is done in September.
Keith Rolland, citing his experience working on Wall Street, said his company hired professional organizations to determine trends and didn't rely on surveys that can get the results they want by the way they phrase questions.
"Surveys are terrible," Rolland said.
Many work places have hostile work environments, he said. "You just have to get over it and learn how to adapt to it and how to change things."
Managers have a job to do, and employees are supposed to do what they are told or else they get fired, Rolland said.
John Bolender praised Wetzel for his proposals to provide more work space for officers, acquire body cameras, hire more officers including those who are bilingual, and improve communication.
"What is it that the anonymous officers object to (in the survey)," Bolender asked.
Citing a letter from Wetzel's fellow soldier U.S. Marine Corps veteran Joe Ostermiller, Bolender said, "'Unfortunately, improvement can't come without innovation, and innovation rarely comes without fear and controversy.'"