Attorney General visits Wyoming, announces $1 million in grants

United States Attorney General Bill Barr speaks during a roundtable discussion with state and local law enforcement in Cheyenne on Thursday. Barr was visiting Cheyenne to announce $1 million was awarded by the Department of Justice to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation for forensic grants. (Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

CHEYENNE — United States Attorney General William Barr visited Cheyenne on Thursday to host a roundtable to hear the concerns of local law enforcement and announce $1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

The grants are aimed at the areas of drugs, sex offenders and violent crime. The money will specifically help toxicologists analyze different opioids and conduct testing; help with training, equipment and overtime for DNA analysis; and help enter DNA evidence into the sex offender registry and also increase storage capacity of that DNA evidence.

In addition to Barr, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Tim Shea, U.S. Attorney for Wyoming Mark Klaassen and Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Interim Director Forrest Williams were at the roundtable.

During his opening remarks, Barr said he was working to untie grant money from opioids so it could also go toward combating other drugs, such as methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is extremely prevalent in Wyoming.

“Up in Montana, I saw how badly meth was ravaging rural communities in Indian country,” Barr said. “Opioids are a serious problem, but meth is really surging.”

Methamphetamine is a drug that’s been associated with a lot of violence, said David Tyree, resident agent in charge of the local Wyoming Drug Enforcement Administration field office.

Barr said he worked with the appropriations committees on Capitol Hill to help get some of the limitations taken off grants to not only aid with opioids, but also methamphetamine. This allowed him to give the grant to Wyoming DCI.

When he announced the grant, Barr mentioned that it was important to him to make federal grants more accessible to rural areas. He said in the past, larger cities have been able to have people dedicated to applying for grants, and they’re able to add more law enforcement officers in an already large police force. But having a few more officers in a rural area can mean so much more incrementally for that department. This is exactly what’s happening at the Cheyenne Police Department.

CPD Chief Brian Kozak said he applied for a federal grant to get a detective that’s dedicated to investigating domestic violence, which is an area that results in a lot of violent crime locally. At the roundtable, Kozak said he felt like Barr heard him and other law enforcement’s concerns regarding rural areas’ needs being overlooked.

“One of the things that we brought forward to him and for him to consider with the Department of Justice grants that we see for law enforcement (is) to really keep in mind the rural local law enforcement needs,” Kozak said. “In the past, it seems like a lot of those grants are geared toward large, big-city police departments, and we need to remember that most people live in rural areas.”

Shea mentioned Kozak directly in his remarks and agreed with him that it’s important to go after the drug trafficking organizations to really go after the root of the problem. Shea also emphasized the important relationship the DEA has with local law enforcement.

Kozak said CPD has five officers who are also sworn DEA agents to combat drug crime in the region.

“It’s great to see the administrator from the Drug Enforcement Administration,” Kozak said. “To talk to him and for him to thank the Cheyenne Police Department for us having five detectives on the DEA Task Force. For him to acknowledge and for him to know the major cases that our detectives here in Cheyenne have opened up for federal prosecutions that have affected the drug cartel market nationally, I think it was just good to hear that really our officers are making a big difference.”

Barr said he likes to travel as the attorney general and visit states that aren’t just on the coasts. He said he recently traveled to Montana and Alaska. Whenever he visits an area, he said he likes to visit with the law enforcement community and figure out what’s going on.

“Law enforcement policy has frequently been focused just on cities, the bigger cities on the coasts,” Barr said. “I’ve talked about the need to serve all Americans and make sure that our programs are serving law enforcement needs of every community.”

Klaassen said one of the things President Donald Trump recognized was opioid addiction. But as they traveled around the country, they were able to see the issues on the ground, and in western states, opioids aren’t as prevalent as methamphetamine.

Barr also said he was struck by the comments Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr made at the roundtable, and he fully agrees with her. He said he was cheered to hear her say that now more than ever is the time to increase law enforcement funding.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the very purpose we have for government is to keep us safe, to provide public safety,” he said. “So I’d call on civic leaders to think about that long and hard and remember that, in the long run, a professional, well-trained police force is economical. It’ll save money, save lives, save property in the long run. And so they have to make that investment.”

He said he’s aware officials are under budgetary pressure nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is where the DOJ can lean forward to help supplement and support the efforts of state and local government. The DOJ has a lot of available grant money, and can help states like Wyoming to build up the capacity at DCI and a whole host of other things.

Barr said the directness, caliber and leadership of the people at the roundtable really impressed him.

Orr said she doesn’t agree with defunding the police, and if anything, police need more funding for training and mental health services. Earlier in budget talks, the CPD training budget was cut due to COVID-19’s impact, but Orr said they were able to find some funding and restore some money for officer training.

“Training is key to making sure that you’ve got a really solid workforce, but respect isn’t given, it’s earned,” Orr said. “And I think certainly the chief that I inherited, the police department that I inherited, they have earned the respect of the community.”