Laramie establishes ad-hoc committee on police-community relations
Committee will advise city council on police oversight, other topics. Councilors agree on 1/3 of committee being law enforcement, though opponents argued for less and Councilor Stalder argued for more
The Laramie City Council has at long last approved the formation of a working group dedicated to the issue of police oversight. The working group, or ad-hoc committee, itself will not engage in any oversight of the Laramie Police Department; rather, it will “review municipal policing practices, legal framework and service statistics” and eventually advise the council on the potential creation of a civilian oversight board.
While many have started discussing what that board should look like — or even if it should exist — Mayor Paul Weaver stressed that the creation of this working group does not equate to the creation of an oversight board.
“The council has not decided on a definite path forward,” he said. “I think a lot of the feedback and concern we’ve heard is that there’s a predetermined outcome. I’m not sure how to address that anymore than we have already tried. All I can say is that we have not. There are a lot of choices we can still make.”
And the working group’s powers are limited.
“The council has not surrendered any control to this committee whatsoever,” Weaver said. “It’s being formed to make detailed suggestions that the council can accept, reject or modify. 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.”
The council approved the working group on a 6-3 vote, with Councilors Jessica Stalder, Bryan Shuster and Pat Gabriel voting against it.
A civilian oversight board is one of the demands protesters had during the summer of 2020, when they marched by the hundreds up and down Grand Avenue, chanting the names of those slain by police in Wyoming and elsewhere.
In the immediate wake of those marches, the council agreed to consider the issue.
Here are some key highlights and takeaways from the Laramie City Council’s Wednesday meeting:
Of the working group’s 23 members, about one-third will be members of law enforcement. Their inclusion on the working group does not equate their inclusion on an eventual oversight board — something oversight supporters will vehemently oppose if and when it’s discussed. There could have been even more police on the working group, as Laramie City Councilor Jessica Stalder suggested at one point bringing the total to 12, which would have been nearly half the group. Tracey Rosenlund of Albany County for Proper Policing said she understood law enforcement might have a role on the working group, providing insight from the field in question. “But this excessive representation will silence the vote of the community members,” she said. “This instills a similar structure to the current complaint that creates intimidation and limits members of the public’s willingness to speak openly and freely if it counters the typical police narrative.” A friendly amendment reduced Stalder’s proposal by four officers. The working group will have eight members of law enforcement, though from various roles.
Should Jessica Stalder recuse herself from votes about policing? Stalder preempted a discussion on that by acknowledging that the chief of police was her father, but added that for her to have a conflict of interest, she or her family would need to stand to gain financially from any decision before the board. Public commenter Sam Neumann, among others, objected and called on Stalder to recuse herself. “Although it is debatable whether this councilor stands to benefit financially from this measure, I think it’s clear they’re morally compromised on this issue due to their personal relationships,” he said. LPD Chief Dale Stalder came to the defense of his daughter and her right to vote on the matter. “When members of the public express that conflict of interest, that’s inappropriate,” he said. “In my profession, after 40-and-a-half years as a police officer, and the way that I raise my daughter — these things are separate. Professional and personal are kept separate. This is a personal matter for me at this point, when my daughter is attacked for a conflict of interest.” However, recent revelations about the councilor make some skeptical of the claim that Stalder’s personal connections do not influence her votes.
Jessica Stalder has recently misled the community about the nature of a separate personal relationship. Following the publication of a detailed investigative feature about the councilor’s business partner, Maximus Bossarei, Jessica Stalder wrote in the Laramie Boomerang and on her public Facebook page, “I do not have an ownership interest in any of the properties that were the subject of the recent Laramie Boomerang article, nor do I work for (Bossarei) or his company.” Shortly after, two separate documents emerged, showing that Stalder signed her name on bills of deposit, explicitly representing Bossarei’s company, MBRE Management. Public commenters at Laramie City Council meetings are not allowed to speak directly about this matter, given the council’s strict rules against making personal attacks. Stalder helped kill a motion two years ago that would have seen the council considering rental regulations. This is despite her business partner Bossarei’s reputation for renting run-down apartments and her declaration that “from time to time, I recuse myself due to a personal conflict on matters before the council. I will continue to do that.”
In the moments before the monumental vote, Mayor Paul Weaver made a plea for respect between opponents and supporters of police oversight. “Everybody who lives in Laramie should be disturbed by the lack of respect and general contempt different parts of this community have frequently shown to each other over the course of the last year,” he said. “It’s not just concerning: it’s frightening.” Weaver cited everything from vicious social media comments to the brandishing of weapons in the street. “This is a city of 35,000 neighbors, friends, teachers, students, customers, businesses, employers, employees — all of those people are equal citizens with the same set of rights under all of the law,” Weaver said. “Laramie needs everyone, all of you. And Laramie needs you to respect each other and recognize individual dignity.”