The Riverton City Council voted Tuesday to extend a contract to Eric Hurtado as their next chief of police.
He is currently the police chief in Hoonah, Alaska, where he also serves as the director of public safety.
“I’m over police, fire and ambulance,” Hurtado told County 10 on Wednesday. “I can be changing out from a police uniform to firefighting gear to driving ambulance, all in the same day. (I’m a) working chief here.”
Hurtado moved to Alaska after retiring as the chief of police in California City, California, where he helped start the city’s Neighborhood Watch program and host their first National Night Out.
He said he brought the National Night Out event to Hoonah, too.
“You’ll usually see me at National Night Out either working … the games or (flipping) hot dogs and hamburgers,” Hurtado said. “(I’m) fully engaged. … I don’t hide behind the desk. I’m out in the public.”
Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock said that kind of community engagement is what the city council was looking for in a new police chief.
“The direction from the council to the chief and to law enforcement is we want to do more to build better relationships with the community and with community groups,” Hancock said Wednesday. “That will be right up (Hurtado’s) alley.”
Alaska Native community
Hancock also pointed to the “good relationships” Hurtado has been able to build with the Alaska Native community in Hoonah.
“That was important to us,” Hancock said.
Hurtado said those efforts at relationship-building have been successful because he has been able to “build up trust” with local community members, both personally and professionally.
Since moving to Alaska three years ago, Hurtado said his family has gotten “really involved in the local culture,” and his children have been learning to speak Tlingit.
The police department has been focused on being “involved in the community” as well, Hurtado said – with positive results.
For example, he said, in Alaska there has been “a long-time problem with women that have been sexually assaulted, and they’ve been afraid (to) speak about what’s happened to them.”
“They’d never come forward before, (because) they never felt comfortable enough to come to report it,” Hurtado explained.
When he took the helm at the local police department and started “working on building up that trust,” however, Hurtado said “for the first time in I don’t know how many years, the victims have been coming forward.”
“Because of what we’ve done and being involved … we’ve bridged that link to where they’re coming out and they believe and trust in us now,” he said.
Hurtado also talked about the lessons he learned at last year’s National Indian Nations Conference about “alternative ways to combat alcoholism and drugs.”
He brought some of those strategies back to Hoonah, where he said officials have started an “alternative Tribal court” for people found guilty of “lower-end crimes” like public intoxication, offering them “assistance – rather than being placed in a cell for a day or two.”
“This guy is a good match for Riverton,” Hancock said. “I think he’s very capable. I think he’s going to do really well, and I’m excited to work with him. He’s got experience, he’s got knowledge, (and he has a) really good attitude.”
Hurtado is expected to start his new job in May, after his daughter graduates from high school.
His family includes nine children ages 3-30, five of whom still live at home.
The adult children are “spread out” around the Lower 48, Hurtado said – and “that’s one of the reasons why we were looking at Wyoming.”
“It’s kind of a central place (for the) kids and the grandkids,” he said.
His family also “fell in love with the area” when they traveled to see friends in Casper years ago, Hurtado said, and they’ve “been visiting (Wyoming) ever since.”
“I look forward to meeting everybody and getting to know everybody with the city and the police department and helping them evolve and really be part of the town,” he said. “There’s a good team of officers there.”
City administrator Kyle Butterfield said the city council interviewed four finalists – including one internal candidate – for the open police chief position on Jan. 31.
Hurtado “was the top-ranked participant,” Butterfield said, so the council directed staff to begin contract negotiations and conduct a background check, which was completed last week.
“We’re excited to move forward with Mr. Hurtado,” Butterfield said. “Based on the interview process, we believe that he’ll be a good fit for the City of Riverton, and with his 30-plus-year experience in law enforcement we think that he’ll be able to make an immediate impact within the department and within the community.”
For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.