LARAMIE — The Laramie City Council passed a resolution Tuesday directing city staff to identify options for creating a civilian oversight board and other measures aimed at increasing community involvement in policing.
The resolution also calls on staff to: Investigate areas where mental health professionals could be used to respond to emergencies in place or in combination with the Laramie Police Department; To explore further community policing options that will increase positive interactions with the public and the police, and to identify funding within the existing public safety budget to increase the percentage of officers within the LPD with crisis intervention training and to expand other areas of training
Mayor Joe Shumway began Tuesday’s special meeting by reading a statement from the council, attempting to establish its position as a forward-thinking government body that was taking a proactive approach to meeting community concerns.
“We hope everyone protesting knows that our council meetings and work sessions dedicated to proper policing are led by a concern for all Laramie citizens and community collaboration,” Shumway said.
The meeting came after seven protesters were arrested and five were cited Thursday during a demonstration in Laramie. One protester who was cited said her shoulder was dislocated when officers pulled her across the street to the sidewalk in front of the Albany County Courthouse.
Anger was still palpable on Tuesday in the City Council chambers, with many public commenters expressing their feeling that council members were still not taking their concerns seriously.
Timberly Vogel, one of the protest organizers, said she appreciated councilman Brian Harrington’s sentiments when bringing forth the resolution, but said it fell short of implementing any effective change.
“The problems we have been talking about are entirely rooted in a lack of accountability and transparency from this council and the LPD, and none of these motions do anything more than have conversations that are held to no standards,” she said. “I urge you to do more comprehensive needs assessments that last longer than three minutes.”
Vogel was referring to the three-minute limit on public comments.
Tuesday’s meeting followed another tumultuous meeting on June 23 where council hosted a work session on the LPD’s use of force policy and police oversight. While there were comments on Tuesday and during the June 23 meeting in support of the council and the LPD, both meetings were largely dominated by people unhappy with the state of policing and council’s reaction to protesters’ cries for reform.
An area of concern brought up during the June 23 meeting was that the LPD had not posted annual policing reports for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Those reports are now available at www.cityoflaramie.org, but one public commenter, who identified himself as Tyler, asked all the council-members whether they had read those reports before considering a vote on Tuesday’s resolution. Shumway advised that public comment periods were not meant to host “back-and-forth” conversations, but no council-members answered in the affirmative.
Council-members took several attempts at amending Tuesday’s motion, but ultimately all those attempts were voted down as many were concerned they would limit the city manager’s ability to bring forth a variety of options.
The first amendment, brought by councilwoman Jessica Stalder, would have changed the citizen oversight board designation to a community task force or an ad hoc committee. Based on her experience working with an ad hoc committee on alcohol issues, Stalder said the spirit was really to reduce “polarization between police and groups that want to oversee the police.”
Stalder then went on to say she thought police officers should be included on the oversight board, which drew ire from public commenters.
“The problem here is that the police get to police the police, and that’s part of the concern” said Karlee Provenza, who is the executive director of Albany County for Proper Policing, or ACoPP. “If it’s not coming from the community, we’re going to continue having problems building public trust, and that’s why this meeting is being held right now, because we have a public trust problem.”
Dr. Tess Kilwein, who said she last spoke at a Laramie City Council meeting when she and other public health officials from the University of Wyoming recommended the city form the alcohol ad hoc committee, asserted she had the authority to tell the council a task force “has no teeth.”
“What I hear you asking for is less accountability and not more,” she said. “The community has been clear we will accept no less than a civilian oversight board.”
During the discussion about the amendments, several public commenters said they thought it was inappropriate for councilwoman Jessica Stalder, daughter of Laramie police Chief Dale Stalder, to vote on the main motion or any related amendments. Although City Attorney Bob Southard said Stalder had no legal reason to recuse herself, Stalder relented and backed out of the conversation to cheers from protesters outside of City Hall.
“As an elected official, if several people in a meeting say I should recuse myself from the vote, even though I don’t think there’s a reason to do so, I will recuse myself,” Jessica Stalder said. “Either way I appreciate the chance to speak and to humanize police officers. I hope after this dialogue we can see our Laramie police officers as individuals.”
The amendment failed with only councilwoman Jayne Pearce voting in favor.
The main motion for the resolution passed unanimously with Jessica Stalder recused.
Tuesday’s meeting came almost a month after protests against police violence and racism began on a nearly daily basis in Laramie. The protests that initially were confined to sidewalks eventually spilled into the streets beginning June 7, with demonstrators occupying Grand Avenue between First and 15th streets for periods of time on various afternoons.
The protesters were confronted on multiple occasions by counter-protesters who often would “coal roll” demonstrators, something they have called on police to cite violators for. May counter-protesters have clearly been armed, with one brandishing a holstered handgun at protesters June 11.
A list of demands was delivered to the city prior to the June 23 work session, and while city officials have remained open to discussion about potential reforms, any discussion of defunding the police department has fallen on deaf ears.
One public commenter Tuesday, Cormac Martinez del Rio, said the demands put forward “weren’t asking for much.” Until those were taken seriously, he said he would continue demonstrating.
“I will continue to show up for marches until all of the demands are adopted, not at the passage of this hollow resolution,” Martinez del Rio said. “You just spent hours deliberating over the language of a resolution that sets the intention that you’ll do research. And I’m wondering why haven’t you already done research. This is a crisis.”