Hundreds of Laramie residents sign anti-oversight petition
Opponents of a debated civilian oversight board frame opposition as support for the Laramie Police Department, say establishing oversight body would be waste of time
At least 600 people — and very possibly more — have voiced their opposition to additional police oversight in the city of Laramie.
That figure comes from various identical petitions emailed to the Laramie City Council and obtained through a public records request. A separate, online petition, with shorter text, has also garnered nearly 500 signatures, though it’s not clear if these are unique, or duplicates of those on the petition emailed to the council.
“We support and appreciate the Laramie Police Department and the men and women who show up every day to serve and protect our community,” the emailed petition reads. “We feel they are cooperative, efficient and transparent, and do not believe there is a need for additional oversight of the Laramie Police Department.”
Following marches for police accountability last summer — during which Laramie residents turned out by the hundreds — the city council agreed to take up the issue of police oversight. Since then, the debate about whether such oversight is needed — and what that oversight would look like — has continued and intensified. Those affiliated or allied with the Laramie Human Rights Network and the police accountability group ACoPP have been vocal about the need for oversight, the challenges with the current structure of oversight, and even the make-up of a working group dedicated to considering a police oversight board.
But those opposed to greater oversight have been active as well, often framing their opposition as support for, or trust in, the Laramie Police Department and its chief Dale Stalder.
The opposition’s petition has been referenced frequently during council discussions, but has not been available to the public until now. As of yet, the number of signatures falls short of the 1,000 that is often cited by both sides — although more time in circulation or enough unique signatures on the Change.org petition might push the total that far.
So far, the petition has been emailed to council multiple times, with other individual emails asking to add additional names. Most of these emails are short, but some include personalized reasons for opposing a police oversight board.
Klaus Halbsgut has run twice for an Albany County Commission seat, as both a Democrat and as an independent, losing both times. He writes in an email to council that looking into greater police oversight would be a waste of time.
“The Police Chief and his department should be commended for the way they handled all the protests and criticism over the last year,” Halbsgut writes. “I believe the ad hoc working group is a solution looking for a problem and is unnecessary currently.”
Halbsgut adds that the real problem with local law enforcement rests beyond the city’s control — specifically with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, which still employs the deputy, now detective, who killed Robbie Ramirez in November 2018.
Ramirez’s death inspired the creation of Albany County for Proper Policing, or ACoPP, and ignited greater community interest in police accountability. Despite this, a secret Grand Jury failed to indict the deputy, Derek Colling, largely based on a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation report that discussed Ramirez’s mental illness at length and which the victim’s mother called “biased.”
Ramirez is not the first person Colling killed or had a hand in killing, and in 2011, Colling also beat a videographer who was filming him legally, telling his victim that if he didn’t comply, he would be “in a world of hurt.”
No city oversight would or could impact the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that employs Colling. The city police department’s chief, Dale Stalder, has even made comments critical of the Sheriff’s Office, saying he would not have hired Colling.
Halbsgut and others against the creation of an oversight board point to this difference between the agencies to argue that the city government might better deploy its limited resources in the service of other causes.
“I would rather see you spend your time on attracting new businesses to Laramie to increase our sales tax revenue and bring better paying jobs to our community,” Halbsgut writes.
Proponents of police oversight point out that a lack of complaints made directly to the Laramie Police Department does not mean that no one has complaints. Rather, many have argued during council public comment periods that those who do have legitimate grievances with the LPD do not feel safe bringing up those grievances to the agency they feel has wronged them, or in the presence of officers from the agency they feel has wronged them.
This is why many argued against the inclusion of law enforcement members even on the purely advisory ad-hoc working group.
Most emails to the council are simply requests for more names to be added to the petition, but those from Lindsay Conyers, of the group Love America, offer a little more.
Conyers has been one of the main organizers behind the petition. In one of her emails to council, Conyers forcefully asserted her side’s intention to fight and keep fighting.
“At the special meeting regarding public comment on this issue last week, Linda Devine stated they were tired,” Conyers writes, referring to Devine’s March 30 comment lamenting how drawn out the process had become. “WELL WE ARE NOT! We are just getting revved up and will continue to fight for our men and women who protect and serve. We have plenty of steam to see this through to the end.”
Police oversight will continue to be a hotly debated issue before the council for at least the next several months. The council recently approved an ad-hoc committee — a working group — to examine police-community relations. The working group has no oversight powers and serves only to advise the city council.
As Mayor Paul Weaver emphasized during a recent council meeting, nothing is set in stone and the council has not surrendered any control to the ad-hoc working group.
“It’s being formed to make detailed suggestions that the council can accept, reject or modify,” he said. “Only the council will determine what, if any, suggestions we choose to move forward with. The citizens of Laramie will also have an opportunity to share their own ideas on how and if we do that.”