City council considers variety of factors in law enforcement decision

Council talks about the PCSO proposal to absorb local police department.

GUERNSEY – Guernsey’s newest version of the city council seems to be listening. At the regular meeting held January 17, the council’s most important vote of the evening was their decision regarding the appointment to fill the vacant council seat created when former council member Ed Delgado was elected to the mayor’s position in the 2022 election. In one of the more extended sections of public comments, the council heard a variety of opinions about who that person should be and how they should be chosen. Some had questioned the council’s plan regarding the application process, feeling the position should go to the candidate from that election that finished third, behind the two candidates who won council seats, which would have put former council member Kellie Augustyn back on the council.

A number of community members spoke up for several candidates who had applied, many endorsing Augustyn, who also applied. And although the council opted to follow the suggested remedy offered under Wyoming state statutes, which was the application process, the end result turned out to be the same. Following an executive session later in the meeting, the council voted to approve Kellie Augustyn as the person to fill the vacant seat. In a followup interview, Councilman Joe Michaels said, “I ran for this position to represent the people of Guernsey. I am here to do what they want.”

Michaels’ words seemed to be shared by this council as they also scheduled two public workshops to further discuss a proposed rail spur project in the industrial park as well as a proposal made by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department to take over 24-hour law enforcement in the town of Guernsey, which would mean the community would no longer have its own, completely dedicated police department. With public interest high in the law enforcement issue, that meeting was held at the school last Wednesday evening where approximately 100 local residents attended to find out more about the issue.

The Town of Guernsey was represented by Mayor Ed Delgado, council members Joe Michaels, Penny Wells, and Disco Harris, city clerk-treasurer Pam Hebbert and town attorney Frank Jones. Sheriff David Russell, Deputy Ward McConahay and County Clerk Malcolm Ervin attended for the Sheriff’s Department.

Mayor Ed Delgado gave a brief introduction saying the council was looking for input from the community regarding the possibility of having the sheriff’s department take over law enforcement duties for Guernsey. The city has had a considerable amount of turnover in the past few years keeping enough officers staffed. Two of the four officers Guernsey employed left the department in November and the remaining two officers have been covering the town on their own since. Delgado said the biggest reason he believes for the continued turnover is the fact that the community is small with little to do for young officers and they get bored with the routine and slower pace.

The meeting was essentially all questions and answers about how the contract (written by the sheriff’s department in draught form at this point) would work. The Sheriff’s department would hire additional deputies and provide two that would be in Guernsey 24-7 but on a rotational basis—meaning it may not be the same two officers working the shifts day to day or week to week. The two officers who are currently employed by the town police force would have to apply with the sheriff’s department and would be subject to hire as any other applicant, however Sheriff David Russell indicated that he believed the officers would not have any problem meeting the requirements. When asked why they couldn’t just be hired outright, Russell said he is not, by law, able to transfer officers from another police force directly into the sheriff’s department.

All of Guernsey’s patrol cars would be turned over to the county and the county would assume all expenses of providing the service, including payroll and benefits. There would be an office presence in Guernsey just as there is now. Funds collected for municipal offenses would remain to be income for Guernsey and assessed through the Guernsey Municipal Court.

The initial proposal is based on a one-year agreement. Although available to read at the Guernsey City Hall, copies were not provided to the public. City clerk-treasurer Pam Hebbert said the draft was not handed out beyond town hall doors at this point because it was only a draft and not necessarily a final contract.

Over 30 individuals spoke from the gallery attending. Many of them offered their appreciation to the council for their willingness to pursue community input and spoke highly of the job the remaining officers have done, especially since losing half the force.

A new resident said one of the considerations his family had in choosing Guernsey was the fact that the community had its own police force. The resident said they found the local police presence to be reassuring, knowing help would be nearby if needed quickly. Several residents who have law enforcement experience were in the audience and spoke. Former Platte County Sheriff Steve Keigley addressed the crowd saying people needed to be aware that even if deputies were assigned to Guernsey, there still might be times when they would have to cover other areas due to vacations, illness and short-staff situations. Keigley said, “Those things will happen, you need to be aware of that.” He told the council not to “jump into something too quickly.” He also offered to help in any way he could with the situation. Prior to his terms as Platte County Sheriff, Keigley also served as a Wyoming Highway Patrolman and town police officer.

Several residents asked what would happen if the agreement did not work out down the road. They were assured by Delgado that Guernsey would be able to go back to having their own police department. When asked about who would make that decision and how it would be made, Sheriff Russell stated there would be evaluations done to assure that both sides were satisfied with the service. It was suggested that be stipulated in the contract.

There was some discussion about the difference in wages between the city and the county positions. Platte County Clerk Malcolm Ervin said one of his goals as clerk is to increase wages for all of the officers at the county level, but that Guernsey’s officers actually make a bit more than county deputies do. Local resident Edie Harris also pointed out that Guernsey pays the entire contribution toward health care for all of their employees. Harris noted that the expense of health insurance is substantial, so those benefits need to be considered when comparing wages.

One resident suggested that perhaps Guernsey needs to seek out officers who are a bit older rather than brand new to the profession and looking for more action than what a small community such as Guernsey offers. They proposed targeting bigger places where officers might be tiring of a hectic workload with higher crime rates but still have years to work and may enjoy living somewhere with a slower pace.

Some long-term residents expressed a sadness at the thought of just not having a police department that’s always been part of the community. Knowing the officers who are specific to and have a vested interest in Guernsey was important to them. Sheriff Russell said deputies would not be required to live in Guernsey but pointed out that one of the current Guernsey officers actually lives in Wheatland.

The council will now have to weigh out the benefits of both options but based on the majority of comments made at the meeting, it would seem most would prefer to keep the Guernsey Police Department intact. If the council chooses to go with the proposal, it would not become effective until the new fiscal year begins July 1st. The matter is on the agenda for more discussion at the next regular city council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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