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Casper Police Department Examines Handling of Sexual Assault Cases After Criticism

Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

Criticism and complaints from Casper citizens have had a tangible effect on the Casper Police Department’s handling of sexual assault investigations.

Chief Jim Wetzel told reporters Thursday that the concerns voiced to Casper City Council beginning in September are one reason the department continues to review and refine its work in that particular area.

While the concerns have affected the department’s oversight of investigations, there has not been a change in department policy.

But those concerns are not the only reason for the department to take stock, and sexual assault investigations represent only one of several areas where the department seeks to improve, Wetzel said.

“This is three years of issues being identified in law enforcement,” Wetzel said, adding that the Casper PD is one of many law enforcement agencies across the country facing scrutiny.

And complaints from citizens that the department has inadequately handled a number of sexual assault investigations are not the only catalyst for the comprehensive assessment of the department informally approved by Casper City Council on Tuesday.

“It was a combination of many things coming together,” Wetzel said. Despite the price tag of over $53,000 for the assessment, Wetzel added, “I’m just excited about the fact that we have a city council, city leadership that’s willing to make this investment.”

As an example of the department’s efforts to better handle investigations, Wetzel referenced a case involving a victim who voiced their concerns to Casper City Council.

Within a week of receiving a case, investigators need to have reviewed that case and identify a course of action. But in the example Wetzel gave, the detective in question did not contact the victim for three weeks.

That issue has been addressed, Wetzel said, and things were handled appropriately once the detective did contact the victim.

Even if a detective has 25 cases — or more — to investigate, that detective must realize that each victim reasonably considers their case to be the top priority, Wetzel added.

“That case, for that victim, is the most important thing,” Wetzel said.

As for Tuesday’s press release regarding the review, Wetzel says the department wasn’t trying to take sole credit for the move. If he could, Wetzel said he’d change the wording of the release to say the department “concurred with the proposal,” rather than “requested” the assessment.

“This was a really wise move that was discussed months ago,” Wetzel added. “To me, it’s about the end result.”

Wetzel told reporters he was not aware of any such assessment conducted by an outside entity in the past. Internal tweaks and revisions, however, happen constantly — just like any business is always on the lookout to better serve its customers, he said.

The department also is working on improving oversight of existing policies and procedures while seeking to develop new policy in areas where none exists, he said.

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