Officers Fear Retaliation, Cite Low Morale in Survey of Casper Police Department
Morale among employees of the Casper Police Department is at an historic low, and a “crisis of leadership” exists within the department, according to the scathing results of a survey discussed Tuesday night by Casper City Council.
The employee survey focuses on Chief Jim Wetzel, who was reportedly the subject of an April 2016 meeting between City Manager V.H. McDonald and the majority of the department’s command staff — a meeting which yielded not even suggestions of change, the survey’s cover letter says.
“How many people have to come forward for this issue to be taken seriously?” City Councilor Amanda Huckabay said after Tuesday’s meeting. “If people can’t feel safe in their own community, then there’s no community at all.”
“It doesn’t matter — the recreational opportunities, the schools, the parks, nice homes — safety is a minimum,” Huckabay added. “And our police department is failing all of us in that capacity.”
The results of the survey, conducted by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 6, is based on 84 responses from a total of 115 employees surveyed.
Results show 65 percent of respondents plan to leave the department.
“This is a staggering number, which would undoubtedly leave the City of Casper in a crisis, if it comes to fruition,” the cover letter reads.
The letter also notes that in many instances, the department already operates at minimum staffing levels and would not be able to sustain itself should some 56 employees walk out the door.
“For approximately three years, employees of the Casper Police Department have suffered under a failed leadership,” cover letter — addressed to council, McDonald and Wetzel, reads. “Respectfully, we seek your assistance in investigating and ultimately, resolving this matter.”
But, according to the survey, city officials haven’t been much help in that area thus far.
All but one member of the department’s command staff met with McDonald in April 2016 to address continuing concerns regarding Wetzel that had been communicated, but not resolved. Wetzel was reportedly invited to the meeting.
“V.H. McDonald had the opportunity to investigate the concerns and to identify a variety of conclusions,” the cover letter reads. “Sadly, approximately one year after this meeting, there has been no communication, no follow-up, and most importantly, no resolution.”
Over 65 percent of department employees surveyed — roughly 56 people — also said the expectations of their administrator — Wetzel — are not realistic.
More than 48 percent of respondents — some 41 people — said they disliked their employer.
“Line supervisors are doing their best to maintain morale and hold the line, despite endless amounts of policy/procedure changes, administrative paperwork, etc. [sic] which hinders them from being able to address actual issues or needs within their team or from even being able to leave the basement on a regular basis,” one response reads.
“Our Line Sgts [sic] are the ones holding this department together currently,” the response continues.
“Workload is well over a limit that can be handled by an individual officer. Often times cases that are more interesting to command are assigned and override any other cases, causing serious issues,” the response says. “Therefore the investigating officer gets heat from citizens and prosecutors that the officer doesn’t deserve.”
“Our opinions don’t matter. He [Wetzel] pretends to listen and then makes his own choices, to better benefit himself and not the department. The changes he has made in the time being put over us the moral of the office has dramatically changed to the point we are all seeking employment elsewhere,” the response adds.
Mayor Kenyne Humphrey called the survey results “alarming.”
“This is why I don’t sleep at night,” she said before opening the council meeting for public comment. “This needs to be investigated immediately.”
City Councilor Chris Walsh said council should focus on “serious consideration” of its course of action in light of the survey.
“I don’t think this should wait even seven days,” Walsh said.
Huckabay said the findings did not surprise her.
“This group of women right here, it’s no shock to them either,” Huckabay added, referring to roughly a dozen women who turned out to support Aimee Kidd as she addressed a memorandum dated March 29 which declared the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office would not be prosecuting the man Kidd accuses of raping her in January 2016.
Huckabay also called for department employees to come forward if they fear retribution or threats following the survey’s release.
“Very little faith in upper admin,” another survey response reads. “He’s pretty scary. You go with the flow to stay out of his way.”
“This isn’t the marine corps [sic], this is a small town Wyoming police department,” an employee said. “The people of Casper want us to catch bad guys, be friendly (and human, not an emotionless robot like wetzle [sic]), and to feel like criminals are scared to break the law.”
“Criminals aren’t though, they haven’t been since wetzle [sic] cut the b—- off the cpd [sic],” the employee added. “If you’re proactive, you have a chance of actually fighting crime and then getting f—– by wetzles [sic] ‘discipline matrix.'”
That employee reported Wetzel’s expectations were becoming increasingly unrealistic.
“Our administrator only cares about himself and his reputation. He is unwilling to receive outside input from his employees,” the employee continued. “The sign posted outside his office shows how little he cares about his employees [sic] ideas and how little dealings he wants to have with them.”
A photograph of the sign is included in the report. It reads:
WHICH ONE APPLIES…
DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE CHIEF?
DO YOU NEED TO SEE THE CHIEF?
CURRENTLY ALLOWING NEED ONLY INTERRUPTIONS AT THIS TIME.
The sign was reportedly posted for two months.
Another survey respondent described Wetzel as being “completely out of touch with the line officer.”
“He promised a ‘family’ and ‘mentoring’ atmosphere when he took over: he delivered this to a handful of political cronies, and is a tyrannical dictator to the rest of the organization,” the employee said. “The ‘standard practice’ is that policy is ignored when convenient.”
Other comments include “the chief has killed officer morale,” “the Chief is always looking for the next guy to fire or force out,” and “I can now say without a doubt after three years, the chief is the worst leader I have ever had the pleasure of working under.”
One employee wrote, “There has been no change or improvement in the work environment when we have pleaded for help or changes.”
Another employee said the “toxic, non-supportive working environment” had destroyed morale.
“There are not enough people working on the street and in traditional investigations, as there are far too many too people in politically appointed ‘specialty positions,'” the employee said. “The administration does not care about patrol-level officers and Sergeants. They are more concerned on their public image and will to shift blame or jump to conclusions with no evidence only hear say. Again making the point they don’t know how to be a cop.”
In a phone interview following Tuesday’s council meeting, Wetzel said he only found out about the survey shortly before the meeting commenced.
“I did not have an opportunity to see that survey before it went out,” Wetzel said. “The first I heard about it was minutes before the city council meeting.”
Wetzel added that he learned about the survey through a media inquiry.
“I don’t think it’s a crisis of leadership. I think it’s a clash of cultures occurring,” Wetzel responded.
“No one likes change,” he said. “When you get somebody new in a leadership position, there’s gonna be change brought about and there’s going to be resistance in that change.”
Wetzel said he intended to take the department’s culture in a different direction upon assuming the role of chief. Although he declined to describe the previous and current cultures, Wetzel said, “I think it’s being demonstrated a little bit what the old culture was.”
A source told K2 Radio that a study which attempted to determine how many officers should be on duty at any given time was previously conducted by a former officer. That study, the source claims, showed staffing levels were largely inadequate.
But Wetzel, when presented with that finding, reportedly dismissed it.
Wetzel says he is not aware of any previous staffing study performed by any external group. He did perform one such study two years ago.
Wetzel also says he requested an increase in detectives and asked for four additional officer positions per year for a five-year period. He says the first year, the department saw four new officers — but no further positions were created following his request due to the decline in the state economy.
“There’s not a year that goes by that every officer in that department doesn’t sit there and say ‘we need more officers,'” Wetzel said Tuesday.
The survey report notes many employees have met with the City’s human resources staff to voice concerns. No resolutions have been communicated by the human resources department.
Command staff members have reportedly met with Wetzel directly in an attempt to communicate the growing concerns of the department, the survey says. No suggested changes have been made.
During the public comment section of Tuesday’s council meeting, Huckabay praised the courage of women who had come forward with their stories about police response to sexual assault.
“I can’t applaud your courage enough,” Huckabay said. “I know there are some people that don’t want to hear you, and that can turn their head and they can be apathetic to this. But I cannot.”
“I too am a victim, and listening to your stories re-victimizes me every day. But you know what? It’s worth it,” Huckabay said. “Because without people to address this, nothing is going to change.”
“And I can promise you, things will change,” Huckabay emphasized.