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Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – Cheyenne’s police and fire chiefs told City Council members Friday about the impacts to their departments of citywide budget cuts for fiscal year 2021 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total Cheyenne Police Department budget is about $14 million, with a cost to citizens of about $220 per capita, which is 24% below the national average of other police departments. The average police department budget is about $273 per citizen, Police Chief Brian Kozak said.

CPD also handles about 30% more calls for service than the average police department of its size because CPD is responsible for providing services to the entire county population of about 100,000.

The Cheyenne Police Department is looking at decreasing its budget from $3.5 million in the 2020 adopted budget to $3.3 million in the 2021 police administration proposed budget. Kozak said this decrease would mean losing valuable funds for officer training and also means not having a crime analyst position.

“So, over the last couple of years, with our constant progress, we’ve really seen the importance of having crime analytics to try to be ahead of the crime patterns, which is why we’ve requested over the last several years for a crime analyst,” Kozak said.

This is a need Kozak said he will have to defer to future budget years. CPD also had to defer hiring a detective dedicated to domestic violence crimes, which have increased by 12% this year. In the past year, there have also been several homicides in Cheyenne related to domestic violence.

This would bring the training budget down to the minimum amount of training hours officers must have on a yearly basis to maintain their certification.

This $35,000 cost-cutting measure means CPD would allocate about 0.25% of its budget toward officer training, while the national average is about 0.6% of a budget for officer training.

“This is one of my major concerns with the budget, because as you know, it’s important to keep up on training,” Kozak said. “It helps us prevent injuries and lawsuits ... if our officers are well trained. The average per the benchmark cities is $1,330 per officer for a budget; that’s the average. This proposed budget, we are budgeting only $334 per officer, and so we’re quite a lot below the national average for police training.”

Kozak also mentioned that most cities Cheyenne’s size have about 2.5 crime analysts, and CPD currently has none. A police services technician and a records technician were part of a force-reduction cost-savings measure, which saved CPD $138,256 in its budget. The department also won’t be filling a records technician position, which will save the department an additional $50,455.

Professional services were also cut by $17,000, which included the mental health wellness program for officers.

“This is unfortunate, because it was our 2020 goal to really improve our mental health wellness or physical fitness wellness for employees,” Kozak said.

Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death in police officers, according to the nonprofit Blue H.E.L.P. In 2019, 228 officers died by suicide nationwide, compared to 174 in 2018, according to the nonprofit. The number of officer suicides reported to the nonprofit has continued to rise since it was founded in 2016. There have already been 60 officers who have died by suicide in 2020.

In its police patrol division, the budget went from about $11 million in the 2020 adopted budget to $10.7 million in the 2021 proposed budget.

This included a reduction in a community services officer, which saved $48,700 from the budget, and eliminating three police officer positions for a total of $254,027.

CPD also reduced overtime costs by $50,000, which means that there won’t be a Neighborhood Night Out, which is an annual block party hosted by officers to meet community members. The national average police overtime makes up 4.2% of the total budget, CPD has a proposed overtime allotment of 1.8% of its total budget.

“At the end of the day, our employees are getting the job done at a cost well below what other police departments cost. In fact, they’re also working at a rate which is higher than most police departments and most police agencies. So I hope you’re just as proud of them as I am.”

Cheyenne Fire Rescue

CFR proposed an overall budget of about $11 million, spread across categories of fire administration division, fire training division, fire prevention division, fire public education division, fire suppression division, emergency medical services and more.

The fire public education division was completely cut for the 2021 proposed budget, which included eliminating the CFR public information officer position at a cost savings of $91,343. CFR also cut an administrative assistant position at a cost savings of $65,038.

The department cut professional development training by $25,000, which Fire Chief Greg Hoggatt said will directly impact the amount of training fire personnel will get. Hoggatt said much like the police department, the fire department needs hands-on training and professional development hours.

The fire prevention division budget line actually increased from $542,270 in the 2020 adopted budget to $660,586 in the 2021 proposed budget. Hoggatt said this actually isn’t an increase, but a shift in a budget line from the fire suppression budget to the fire prevention budget.

He said this additional $118,000 is due to a fire lieutenant position being shifted from the fire suppression division to the fire prevention division at a cost of $131,525.

For fire suppression, the department is considering not rehiring three probationary firefighters, which would save CFR $266,727. These positions would be rehired if SAFER grant money is given to the department.

The professional services line item was increased by $22,025 due to contractual obligations to provide firefighter physicals at $325 for 88 firefighters. The emergency medical services division budget also increased by about $28,000 to cover medical and safety equipment costs.

The Cheyenne Firefighters IAFF Local 279, the CFR firefighters union, sent out a news release early Friday expressing concerns over the proposed budget and the attempts by the city of Cheyenne to renegotiate the contract the firefighters negotiated with the city earlier this year.

The release said Hoggatt and Mayor Marian Orr are pushing the union to reopen their contract, and that Orr suggested earlier this week that “arbitration was imminent,” which discounts the firefighters’ attempts to find solutions to the COVID-19 financial impacts that are mutually agreeable.

“Now, more than ever, public safety should be the top priority for our city,” said Theron Haws, Cheyenne Firefighters Local 279 president. “Cheyenne Firefighters have tried multiple times to collaborate with Chief Hoggatt and Mayor Orr during these tough economic times. We have been disregarded and our ideas dismissed without any consideration.

“Our priority is to work together with city officials to provide cost-saving solutions that are fiscally responsible without compromising the safety and services our citizens expect and deserve. Unfortunately, our voice as this community’s public safety professionals has been ignored.”

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @IsabellaAlves96.

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