CHEYENNE – Members of a local nonpartisan group say they’re not satisfied with the current police oversight committee and said it should be more independent of the Cheyenne Police Department.
Wyoming Alliance Chairman Joe Ramirez said Wednesday this was just one problem he and members of his group have with the CPD’s response to its community conversation report from earlier this year.
The group held a community meeting Jan. 23 to hear concerns community members have with the police department. The group then compiled the community conversation report and presented it to the Cheyenne City Council on April 22.
CPD responded to the report’s questions Aug. 24, when it released its own report. One of the issues the group had with the report was CPD’s answer to its community oversight committee question.
In the community conversation report, Wyoming Alliance asked CPD about the Police and Community Together committee (PACT) and whether a community oversight committee should be established to address any concerns citizens might have with the police department. PACT is the current independent oversight committee that monitors the department and hears any concerns the community has with CPD.
PACT is comprised of several local organizations, such as churches, LGBTQ community members and even Wyoming lawmakers.
But Wyoming Alliance members said the information provided about PACT didn’t answer their question.
“It wasn’t about the questions, it was about the PACT,” said Melody Nielsen, vice chairwoman of Wyoming Alliance. “We were invited to come to the PACT, but the PACT doesn’t address the goals and needs we wanted to see met.”
Ramirez said PACT doesn’t appear to be the type of community oversight the group was talking about. He said there are already organizations that Wyoming Alliance is aligned with in PACT, and they don’t see the need to be a part of the group.
Nielsen said when she went to one of the meetings, it seemed like people weren’t really involved, and they weren’t asked what they think could be done in the department. She said any oversight committee would need to be a third-party committee.
“The PACT might not feel strong enough to address the issues that would come across their table, and maybe there needs to be a third party that could address that for them,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said PACT members might not feel comfortable enough to react to some issues because they’re part of the police environment, such as in incidents of police officer escalation.
But Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak said PACT is a third-party oversight committee that isn’t run by the police department. He said the chair of the committee is independently elected, and part of PACT’s duties is to review any complaints CPD may receive.
He said if someone doesn’t feel comfortable going to the police with a complaint, they can contact a member of PACT. The list of PACT members and organizations is available on CPD’s website, cheyennepd.org.
Kozak also said he extended the offer to join PACT to Wyoming Alliance at the original Jan. 23 meeting, and the offer still stands.
Wyoming Alliance member Earl Janack said he doesn’t recall being invited by the CPD to become a member of PACT. Janack added that he thinks the police department’s response was kind of defensive, and he doesn’t understand why.
“(When) any group, not just our group, perceives the line of communication as not open, then we need to do something about that,” Janack said.
Nielsen said she didn’t know people could make complaints to the department, and she thinks not enough people are aware of that fact. She said she has had interactions with the police where they’ve been very helpful.
Another form of oversight the department has is the body cameras worn by local police officers, the chief said. The cameras are required to be turned on throughout any investigation done by police, Kozak said, and citizens are welcome to go to the department and review body camera footage with officers if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly.
Kozak said during his time as chief, he hasn’t had any incidents where people are treated differently because of their race or background. Referencing the CPD annual report, he said the demographics of Cheyenne match up with CPD incidents, such as traffic stops and arrests.
Another problem Wyoming Alliance had with the CPD’s answers was its response to the group’s diversity question: “Does law enforcement know how to react to people of color or other disengaged groups?”
To answer this question, CPD officials said they make sure all officers have diversity training, and take steps to record racial demographics for citations and reports to make sure they aren’t singling out minorities. Part of CPD’s answer was listing some of the training classes officers took.
But Ramirez said CPD’s training class listings didn’t address the question. He said the question was meant to ask how CPD officers have training in diversity as it relates to people of color.
“That isn’t the same as this. That doesn’t show us that they got diversity training as it relates to people of color and cultures,” he said.
For example, he said the “Introduction to Islam” class listed on the CPD report is a good example of diversity training, but doesn’t fully address the question. He said the idea that police can take these classes doesn’t relate to how people of color may feel when interacting with the police and the deescalation of an issue in the field.
The CPD report indicated that officers did take deescalation classes.
Kozak said he is confident in the training police officers receive, and they get about 40 training hours per year, or 10 per quarter. He said this is more than the average officer receives nationwide.
He also mentioned that if someone has a recommendation for a training class they would like officers to take, they can propose the class to him. Kozak said he would then look at the class and make sure it’s appropriate for officers.
Every class officers currently take does have components of treating people fairly and nondiscrimination, Kozak added.