Police-community working group plans three public forums
As the working group prepares its recommendations, members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on police oversight and mental health calls. The group returns to city council in December.
An upcoming slate of public forums will give Laramie residents a chance to voice their opinions regarding local law enforcement practices.
Laramie's Working Group for Police and Community will host three virtual forums — on the evening of November 29 and midday on both Dec. 2 and Dec. 4. The information and opinions collected during those forums could impact the working group’s long-awaited report to city councilors.
“The community forums are going to be the last bit of information we’re going to receive,” Co-chair Mitchell Cushman said, adding that the working group will likely report to the council before the new year. “We’re looking for the citizens to also give us some information about what they think on either the oversight board or the co-response models for mental health.”
The forums continue a long-running conversation the city has been hosting since the summer of 2020, when the murder of George Floyd sparked calls for police reform, accountability and oversight in communities across the nation, including Laramie.
In the wake of those protests, the Laramie City Council agreed to discuss the establishment of an oversight board. Nearly a year later, the city established the police-community working group to investigate police oversight and other policing issues. The group was charged with eventually reporting back to the council with recommendations.
“The working group itself is a review and investigative group that the city council put together to look at a couple of things in particular,” said Cushman, who is also a retired Laramie police commander. “One was the co-response models for mental health and police. And the other is the oversight possibilities of a civilian oversight board with the city police department.”
The working group is not an oversight board. Nor can it revise city code. Instead, the group serves strictly in an advisory capacity to the council, and councilors are free to reject, alter or approve any recommendations it brings forward.
Despite the group’s lack of policy-making power, everything about the group — from its initial charge to its specific make-up — was fiercely debated in the weeks leading up to its creation. Council meetings were often dominated by public comment from individuals both for and against greater police oversight.
Following the working group’s creation, group members decided to meet behind closed doors. Mayor Paul Weaver defended that decision, saying it would allow for more frank discussion among group members.
“The working group needs some autonomy for how it’s going to operate,” Weaver said at the time. “We wanted to create an environment where they could decide how they wanted those meetings to be conducted.”
The group voted to keep not just its meetings confidential, but its minutes as well. While most advisory boards established by the city publish their minutes on the city’s website, the police-community working group publishes only “group memories,” which bullet point a meeting’s agenda and do not record what was said by whom.
The group has met 10 times since its first meeting in June.
“We’ve already done some investigative work and we’ve had some specialized speakers and groups that made presentations to this group,” Cushman said.
According to its published memories, the group has examined Laramie’s Civil Service Commission and the Cheyenne Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board. The group has also viewed material from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and spent two meetings looking at how local law enforcement responds to mental health calls.
During this time, the group has heard personally from local authorities such as LPD Chief Dale Stalder, City Councilor Andi Summerville and Mayor Weaver, as well as outsiders such as Brian Kozak, the former Cheyenne Police chief.
The forums will be hosted:
Monday, Nov. 29 from 6:30 - 8 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 2 from noon - 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 4 from noon - 1:30 p.m.
During the posted times, members of the public can join the Zoom call by clicking this link. Those who cannot make any of the meetings but still wish to comment are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Even if you can’t make a forum, you can still give your opinion,” Cushman said.