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Police department asks for new headquarters, plans broad changes in 5-year strategic plan

April 27, 2017 GMT

CASPER— Casper police officials envision of number of changes for the department in the next five years, including possibly building a new headquarters and buying body cameras, according to a draft of department’s strategic plan released Tuesday.

The plan outlines a number of expected changes in the department, detailing both broad policy changes and specific purchases. The proposal — the first of its kind for the department — focuses on six areas: staffing and training, infrastructure, technology, enforcement practices, internal organization and partnerships with community groups and other law enforcement agencies.

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The department also identified a number of its challenges in the plan, including difficulty recruiting and retaining officers, increased violence against officers across the country, more encounters with people in a mental health crisis and decreased state and city funding.

Police Chief Jim Wetzel said department leadership began working on the plan in the fall. The plan will guide the department in the coming years and will serve as a foundation when he approaches city government for funding in the future, he said. The plan is still a draft, however, and the results of an external review of the department as well as public input will be considered before finalizing the document.

“We need to look holistically at the needs and requirements of the department,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

The release of the strategic plan comes at a time of turmoil at the police department. In the past month, two-thirds of officers in the department said they had no confidence in Wetzel’s leadership and Casper City Council members have called for investigations into allegations against the chief. However, the chief said Tuesday that he had no plans to resign and was waiting for the results of the outside audit of the department, expected in September.

He previously described the divide within the department as a “clash of cultures” and said the strategic plan was a good example of the direction he wanted the department to take.

The vision of the department, as outlined in the document, is to be a “professional police organization of irrefutable noble character, respected and trusted by the entirety of the community and its citizens to guard their freedoms, safety, and security.”

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“This describes to me the culture we need to have here at the Casper Police Department,” Wetzel said.

New purchases

The department moved into its current headquarters on David Street in 1976, but the building no longer meets the needs of the operation, Wetzel said.

“Extensive remodeling and reconfiguration efforts (to the department headquarters) over this 40-year period is providing diminishing returns and now fails to met both current and future operational and administrative requirements,” the plan states.

Wetzel said the department needs more space so officers aren’t jammed together. He also said there’s a need for more meeting spaces and better electronic connectivity in the building. The department also requires more space for victim services and so that victims and suspects can be kept apart. He said the department should also build a “soft” interview room with couches — quite different than the current whitewashed, sterile rooms — where victims could be interviewed in a more comfortable environment.

He also said the room where evidence is now stored is “woefully inadequate” and that sometimes the area near the room has a “significant smell” of marijuana because of poor air control in the facility. He said the department could also collaborate with other area law enforcement to create a joint evidence storage facility, but that the idea is in the preliminary stages.

Wetzel said there haven’t been in-depth conversations about the possibility of a new headquarters and that he recognizes funding a new police station during difficult economic times would be a challenge. He said building a new headquarters would be a “huge commitment” but that he wanted to get the conversation started.

“There’s so much concern about the economic environment in front of us,” he said. “We know it’s going to be tight for the foreseeable future.”

The plan also outlines a number of other imminent purchases, including body cameras, drones and law enforcement software.

Wetzel said the department is now considering buying body cameras for officers. He said he was hesitant to purchase them previously because of the laws surrounding their use. Now that law and policy is more clearly defined, including a law created by the 2017 Wyoming Legislature, the department is ready to create its own policies and assess costs. He said he believes body cameras are well on their way to becoming standard police equipment, just like a badge or a ticket book.

“I fully recognize the value in them — it’s not a matter of if but of when,” he said.

He also said the department is considering buying a drone to help take aerial photos of crime scenes and aid in search and rescue. But first the department needs to develop a policy regarding its use.

The technology would help investigators and other staff evaluate information more quickly and help the department function more efficiently. Some programs would help organize internal information and knowledge, while others would help with investigations.

He also outlined a need for a variety of software programs that would help the department analyze information. He said the department hadn’t made any decisions about which programs to buy but has considered a number of companies.

Wetzel said the department hadn’t approached the city about budgeting for these new purchases but said that the plan will serve as a foundation for those talks in the future.

Changes to staffing

The department needs more officers and civilian staff, the plan states. The department is currently authorized at 99 sworn officers, but five of those positions are currently open.

Wetzel said he analyzed data about the department’s staffing level about two years ago and found that the department needed at least 20 more patrol officers as well as five more detectives. Wetzel brought a proposal to the city that would allow him to hire four officers a year over the next five years, but the economic downturn halted that plan after he was able to hire only four more patrol officers and one detective, he said.

The external analysis of the department will also consider staffing levels, and Wetzel said he believes the group will come to a conclusion similar to his.

“I don’t know how they wouldn’t find us understaffed,” he said.

Increased staffing would allow officers more time on each call and also provide for more proactive work building relationships with the community, he said.

The plan outlines changes to hiring and training practices in both the short and long term. The department plans to increase the amount of money it uses for recruitment and hiring and also wants to recruit more mid-career officers. One need of the department is more officers who speak languages other than English, especially Spanish. To address that issue, the department plans to incentivize the hiring of people who speak multiple languages and help current officers learn languages.

The plan also includes a number of changes intended to boost morale and encourage relationships within the department. One of the plans is to conduct an annual internal “quality of life” survey of department employees. Wetzel said the survey would be a chance to hear what officers have to say and gather ideas about how the department could improve.

“We expect our officers and employees to be invested in their respective roles to enhance quality of life to the community,” the plan states. “However, it is difficult to expect them to be invested in that endeavor when there is a lack of quality of life for them internally within the organization.”

That suggestion comes three weeks after an internal survey conducted by the Casper Police lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police showed a morale crisis within the department.

The document also outlines other plans, including the creation of regular family events and programs to support officers and their mental health.