(Riverton, WY) Concerns were raised and comments made before a full council and a full city hall chamber at Tuesday’s Riverton City Council meeting in regard to the state of the police department, described as “overworked and underpaid.”
Pastor Cade Bichel of Neighborhood Alliance Church, and Karen Johnson of #StepUpRiverton both made comments about the diminishing number of police officers and appealed to all city council members to take action.
“Our officers are in a difficult position right now where they are completely overworked…and not only are they overworked, they are underpaid,” said Pastor Bichel, who is also the RPD Chaplain. “I love it here; I chose to move here. I didn’t grow up here; this is somewhere where I looked at and thought, ‘That’s where I want to live’, and if everything goes right, I hope to retire here.”
Bichel said that Riverton has been referred to and classified as the most dangerous city in Wyoming. “We’re not downtown Los Angeles, we’re not Chicago,” he said. “It’s realistically not as dangerous in those places, but we do have an entirely larger amount of crime than every other city in Wyoming, and that is violent crime…and with that, our officers, are paid the third lowest.”
He went on to relate an incident where police officers had responded to shots fired on Fremont Avenue and chased a suspect who ran into city park at a time when it was “full of families picnicking, the skatepark was full…there were several other parties happening at the same time,” Bichelsaid. “Now we have these two officers going after one individual in a group of all these people and trying to make everyone safe.”
The officers were able to get the suspect with no accidents, “…but the problem is, imagine what they have to think about when they go to bed at night,” Bechel continued. “They had their guns out in a park full of kids, a park full of families, and anything could have gone wrong…so, with the added stress of that, the added stress of the financial burden that we’re placing on them…I seriously suggest that we find a way to fix this.”
Karen Johnson of #StepUpRiverton and business owner of Twice But Nice Thrift expressed the same concerns about the police department, and that the issue “requires our immediate attention,” she said, also referring to past meetings held, which included the community meet and greet that the mayor, city administrator and police chief had hosted on June 27.
“Many were disappointed,” Johnson said. “The only one that took any interest among the city council members was Karla Borders, and we’re wondering why none of the others took any interest when this is such a big thing going on.”
Johnson said that, at the meet and greet, it was discovered that there were only 13 officers in the department at that time. Since then, the department has been reduced to 11 officers, with more officers who had recently disclosed to Johnson that they were currently looking or intend to go elsewhere.
“This could be very damaging to the City of Riverton,” she said. “We need to do something. We need to be better for our officers, we need to be better for our city, we need to do better for our citizens, our businesses…the entire community. It is not fair that this city is operating the way that it is currently. We’re experiencing a huge spike in crime, and it’s not petty crime, it’s violent crime. These are affecting officers’ safety. They can’t respond to a call with backup, they don’t have anybody to back them up…it’s not fair to them.”
Johnson suggested solutions to the Council, saying that business owners have developed a networking system that sends out notifications of any problems they’re facing in order to relieve some of the pressure off the officers. Solutions were also suggested to the Council, such as a one-percent tax that would go exclusively to law enforcement, grant writing opportunities for equipment and other needs, and hosting and showcasing RPD at job fairs.
#StepUpRiverton has now also created a new public Facebook group for Riverton business owners, with the mission and purpose “to better our community and tackle the ongoing issues Riverton business owners consistently have with homelessness and chemical-dependent folks. Seeking both short and long-term solutions. Finding adequate solutions for people in need of mental health help. We invite you to share your thoughts constructively. Racism will not be tolerated. We will share updates on our successes along with the challenges we face. We will share upcoming meetings that are open to the public, along with any planned events. With effort from all, we can restore Riverton to a safe area for our entire community.”
Also on the city council agenda was the first reading of the Presbyterian Church’s rezone request. Several citizens stood up during the public hearing portion and expressed concerns about how the rezoning might affect and change the dynamics of the neighborhood.
“I know that we had a lot of people talking about our police department tonight,” Mayor Tim Hancock said at the close of the city council meeting. “Our police department is full of very hard-working, dedicated public servants who take their job seriously. I have the chance to be able to rub shoulders with them regularly, and I would put them up against any other group of law enforcement for their dedication to the work and for their willingness to go above and beyond to make sure they’re doing everything to protect our city…”
“…I understand concerns that people have expressed, I hear them, we are talking about a lot of different things and regardless of anything else that’s been said, I think it’s important that people understand we are well served by our police department and we are trying to make sure that we have good people there. So I guess pass that along to your officers… detectives… dispatch. There’s a lot more that goes into the police department than just officers… you have very good men and women behind you and I appreciate them.”
Click here to watch the full council meeting on the city’s YouTube channel.