City Council appoints nine residents to police working group
The city received 26 applications, including some from non-residents. Council appointed six members of the public, three professionals, and two of their own to serve on the police-community committee.
The Laramie City Council appointed nine residents to its long-awaited and long-debated working group on police-community relations.
Those appointments include six members of the public and three professionals with backgrounds in social services and law enforcement.
The working group is not an oversight board and has none of the powers associated with such a board. Instead, the group is intended to serve the council in an advisory capacity.
“This group will review policing practices of our municipal police department, look at the legal framework surrounding those practices and service statistics,” City Manager Janine Jordan said during the council’s meeting Tuesday. “Our goal is to build a very knowledgeable panel of folks who can provide recommendations to city leadership after a number of months and after hosting some community forums.”
Those eventual recommendations could include a recommendation to establish a civilian oversight board, but that is by no means certain. How often the group will meet, and what form their meetings will take, has not yet been decided.
The city received 26 applications for membership on the working group. Two of those applications were filed by non-city residents and were thus rejected. The council appointed the following community members to the working group:
Jeffrey Van Fleet
Briana Smith (alternate)
The council also appointed two residents “engaged in provision of social services”:
In the same motion, council also appointed a retired member of law enforcement:
Councilors Bryan Shuster and Pat Gabriel provided the only two votes against the appointment of these individuals. While Gabriel did not provide a reason for his “no” vote, Shuster asked if the applicants had received background checks, suggesting that council should weed out anyone convicted of serious crimes as they might have a vendetta against the police.
“I don’t want to see anybody get on the committee to ‘get even,’ as they so call it sometimes,” he said.
The city manager informed the council that background checks were not conducted, adding that the city usually does not perform background checks for applicants to volunteer boards. Mayor Paul Weaver followed this up by saying he would be a part of the working group’s meetings. Weaver said he had seen no indication that any member would try to ‘get even,’ but also no intention of letting any member do so.
“If there is a desire on the part of committee members to ‘get even’ or exercise any sort of retribution because of some past experience they’ve had with a law enforcement officer, that’s not going to be an appropriate element of these discussions,” he said.
The council passed a further resolution appointing two of their own to the working group:
Councilor Sharon Cumbie
Councilor Andi Summerville
Councilor Erin O’Doherty said those two were a wise choice, given their backgrounds.
“Councilor Cumbie has extensive experience in the mental health field and Councilor Summerville was a federal investigator,” O’Doherty said. “They are the two best council members to do this.”
Shuster cast the sole vote against the councilors’ appointments.
The working group will also feature representation from the school district, the university, and the Community Mental Health Board, as well as additional members of law enforcement.
Background: Where did this working group come from?
The working group’s formal title is the Ad-Hoc Working Group for Police & Community (or WGPC) and is the outgrowth of protests and popular action last summer. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, marches and demonstrations erupted across the country, including in Laramie.
While demonstrators across the country marched for a variety of causes — ranging from localized frustrations to the complete abolition of the police, and everything in between — demonstrators in Laramie largely demanded more transparency from the Laramie Police Department and eventually focused on the goal of establishing a civilian oversight board.
The issue simmered with the city council for more than six months, as LPD Chief Dale Stalder and city staff were tasked with researching civilian oversight boards across the country. Meanwhile, the 2020 election gave Democrats more seats on the council than they had during the protests in June, when the city government agreed to take up the issue.
Policing and police practices once again took center stage in April, as the council deliberated the make-up of the ad-hoc working group.
Supporters of the police, many of whom opposed the idea of a working group, advocated for more police representation on the WGPC. Police accountability activists responded that the working group should not have any police representation, arguing that the presence of law enforcement would make some people uncomfortable voicing their concerns about the police.
In the end, those advocating for more police representation won, at least partially, and the council agreed to make one-third of the working group members of law enforcement.