Green River Star -

By Chris Steffen
Green River Police Chief 

Guest column: Police chief responds to Star column

 


(Editor’s Note: This was originally submitted as a letter to the editor, however due to its length and the topics covered, we’re publishing this as a guest column.)

By CHRIS STEFFEN

Green River Police Chief

After reading the article about the mistake made by the joint tactical team in (the March 23) Green River Star, I felt compelled to respond, where possible, to the items you referenced in the article. 

As a department we did respond on each of the items you discussed at a level we felt was adequate when they occurred.  With additional comments and questions that have come up as a whole with the department, we feel they are still separate items under separate circumstances and should be treated as such.  Posturing on the pressures and responses on a social media, or press platform level, are rarely positive and can only fuel or open up other areas that are not conducive to the efficiencies, performance, or actions of the department or the city itself.  I will explain these items and let the citizens of Green River decide if I, on behalf of the police department, am being truthful and honest as to the various items you brought into question.

The incident with the joint tactical team was a mistake, plain and simple.  It is tough to explain the confusion that is created from chaos, rush of the moment, darkness, multi-entity coordination and communications, etc., but the three-man team of officers, working in unison with the other main entry team found themselves there and ended up on the wrong street. 

They believed that they were at the correct house, deployed a distraction device in the front yard and broke out a front window at the wrong residence.  Upon discovery, most of the team moved quickly to the correct house, where the main entry team had been positioned and entered, and assisted them with the remaining tasks involved with the search warrant. 

Some stayed behind with the involved family and helped clean up the mess that was made, calmed the family down and apologized profusely.  One team member stayed for an extensive period of time, played with the kids at the house in order to reassure them that everything was alright and gave them all the patches off his uniform in some small gesture of saying sorry.

Since the Green River Police Department was the agency with tactical command of the operation, we paid for the repairs to the home.  

The end result of the operation, as a whole, was not “completely failed” as stated in the article as there were three individuals arrested on felony drug related charges, drugs were stopped from being dealt in a residential area of town and subsequently they served numerous other outstanding warrants on individuals who were at the residence.

This effort not only involved the GRPD, but the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation, and while not all tactical information can be released we felt all agencies involved needed to have a say in what was released to the public.

As to what steps are being taken to make sure this doesn’t occur again, all the teams operating procedures are being reviewed, with some important items involving team and sub-team agency involvement being changed.  This type of debriefing also exists for all operations, even the highly successful ones. 

I believe strongly that the officers directly involved on the team feel terrible about the incident and would never want to have it repeated again. They are all excellent officers and deputies, chosen to be on the team due to their performance and personalities. 

All involved agencies have and will continue to discuss how we move forward and what needs to be done to make sure mistakes aren’t made in the future.

Certainly, most in this community don’t know how much work and effort has gone into the formation and structure of the joint tactical team.  They have worked extremely hard to put together a unified team from different agencies, written standard operating procedures for the team, based on National Tactical Officers Association standard recommendations, put in two days per month training together for the past few years, and they have conducted numerous operations county wide with no errors or issues.  It is standard procedure to have the need for a joint tactical team, when smaller rural jurisdictions are involved.  This is from a standpoint of meeting NTOA standards and due to the fact that it would not take much to overwhelm any one team.  Consider an active shooting at any school or larger facility in this county, while immediate first response will be with patrol officers, many of them are also SWAT officers with advanced training, knowledge and experience.  An incident at any of our county’s plants or facilities, terrorist related incident, etc. will easily require the need for a tactical team that has trained and worked together and is of a larger size than any one local law enforcement agency can field.  Local law enforcement is the front line defense with many different situations that currently confront our country.  One only needs to turn on the television to realize that the world is not getting safer and no location is immune from the possibility of a threat.  It is my hope, from a chief of police position, and as a resident of this community, that our department or our tactical team never has to face those dangers and I also appreciate the training they put in and the work and service they do in their preparedness.

Where I can, I will briefly touch on a few other items in your article.  First, the incident involving Jacob Anglesey that occurred back in 2009 was immediately turned over to another law enforcement agency to investigate.  I would think our community would understand why we wouldn’t want to investigate one of our own in an alleged crime?  The paper and media properly reported this when it first came out as well.  While it is a terrible situation and one we never want any of our employees involved in, it did not involve actions while he was on duty.  We were also all extremely saddened by the death of Connor and still are today.  I certainly understand the implication with any accused wrong doing of a police officer, on or off duty, but this profession is afforded the same as any other, due process and the ability to be seen as innocent until proven guilty.  Since we were not the investigating agency, and for a number of reasons all of which will eventually come out in the legal process, DCI did all they could do until the end of 2015.  In between those years, Jake worked hard, did his job and was a good officer for this department. We have to let the only legal system we have in this country run its course and in the end, hope for justice.

Lastly, the issue of our building and shooting range was brought up collectively in the article. Anyone who ever walked into our old facilities at city hall left with a resounding question of why do you not have more space? We had officers and staff sitting on top of one another and we needed more space to handle evidence and storage more efficiently. Decisions were made by the governing body to provide the community a better working environment for the police department. It is a great facility and one I am proud to walk into every day.  It provides a more functional working environment and is more conducive for serving the public than our old location.  We have yet to receive a negative comment from anyone that comes into the building. Remember, when this issue was a standalone project item on the sixth penny ballot, over 60 percent of the voting public in Green River was in favor of a new building being built for the police department.  In addition, it also houses municipal court and is utilized by a number of different agencies, both law enforcement and non-law enforcement, for meetings and trainings.  It is a great addition to Green River, our downtown, and it’s much better than the eyesore that was the original structure.

The shooting range was originally in the plans for our building, but was cut out due to budget constraints at the time of completion.  Having the HVAC system nearly completed for range purposes and the range space roughed out in the original scope of the work that was completed. Additionally, seeing the overall benefit it provides to our agency, and that we had consensus funds specifically available for that project, we sought additional funding to complete it.  The governing body saw fit to dedicate the additional monies to finish this building, with the completion of the shooting range, over a year and a half ago.  We fully recognize the importance of the utilization of consensus funds, obtaining grants where possible, and wisely spending taxpayer’s money that helps the majority.

To summarize, I have been with the GRPD for many years.  All of our officers, Animal Control Officers and staff work and live in Green River.  We don’t live somewhere else and work here, we are vested in Green River and work very hard every day to protect and serve it.  Anyone who knows me or perhaps doesn’t, can come to the GRPD or call me and ask questions. Transparency and openness are high priorities not only for the city but for me and this agency.  That does not mean we can answer every question from the press or from citizens. Some items we may be bound by Wyoming state statutes and laws that prohibit their disclosure and the press knows, or should know this, better than anyone. We understand our jobs come with scrutiny, but my personality lends itself to feeling that I have a large responsibility in seeing that the community feels good about and trusts their police department. 

I hope they do.

 

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