A new nonprofit has formed to support Park County’s law enforcement officers as the departments deal with changes in training standards and equipment needs.
The goal of the Park County Sheriff’s Office Charitable Foundation will be to raise funds for the department to support their equipment and training needs.
“Proper training and equipment are vital to their success,” said Darrin Whalen, a former Washington State Trooper and owner of the Cody Papa Murphy’s. “Both provide confidence to do their job.”
Whalen said he consulted with the Sheriff’s Office and made a wish list of items the department said it sorely needs.
“While we could survive without the Park County Sheriff’s Office Charitable Foundation, the intent of the foundation is exciting,” Steward said. “In what they propose to provide in the way of training and additional equipment that we might not normally be able to afford, is invaluable. The Foundation will play an instrumental role in the Sheriff’s Office mission to stay current on the newest training to ensure we serve the citizens of Park County with the utmost respect, professionalism and dedication.”
In their first course of public action on Tuesday, representatives from the organization petitioned the Park County commissioners to make them a $500,000 contribution for the Sheriff’s Office with America Rescue Plan Act funds. Although the county has received $5.7 million through ARPA, it has only committed to spending $1.5 million of these funds so far on a variety of county projects, including $265,850 in portable radios for the Sheriff’s Office.
Although Cody Regional Health and Powell Valley Healthcare had $750,000 in funds approved by the commissioners, the Foundation is the first nonprofit 501(c)(3) to formally present before the board asking for ARPA funds.
“I fully believe our costs are very low in our estimate,” Whalen said.
Whalen said if granted, the funding would be used to help the Sheriff’s Office catch up with its needs over the next three years.
Some ambiguity has existed since the ARPA funds were announced as to what they can be used towards. According to the U.S Treasury, they can be used to “support public health expenditures,” such as “funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and certain public health and safety staff.”
“We believe all these apply to the Park County Sheriff’s Office,” Whalen said.
Whalen said if granted, the money would be managed by the all-volunteer foundation, which would keep the commissioners in the loop with all money spent. He said the foundation also plans to publicly raise funds on their own and plans to continue working after the ARPA funds are expended.
“Being able to have a venue for people, or an avenue for people to help with this was important for us,” said president Rachael Biles.
Whalen said the influx in growth Park County has experienced over the last few years has only heightened the Sheriff’s Office’s needs. That growth, coupled with the mental health effects brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, has made it even more apparent a $2.8 million budget for the department is not enough, he said. This fiscal year the Sheriff’s Office had their budget increased by $151,457.
Whalen said in conversations with Park County Sheriff Scott Steward, he was informed the training the sheriff can afford to provide to his deputies is limited to education on firearms, first aid, and for items that have expiration or recertification attached to them. Currently, deputies receive minimal training after gaining employment, and Whalen said, some deputies, many of whom only trained at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, lack emergency training on the vehicles they currently operate.
Whalen referred back to a list of training he received while a trooper in 2005 and noticed that none of these educational opportunities are being offered in Park County.
“No professional growth, very little supervisor’s training, no refresher training, no specialty training, no de-escalation training, no mental health training, no stress management,” Whalen said. “The biggest liability to Park County is failure to train.
“There is no better time than now to help them.”
The Sheriff’s Office is provided about $25,000 from the county to train its 63 employees, with $4,000 reserved for travel alone. No budget exists for detention center or dispatch staff to travel to training, yet other county departments have travel budgets equal to or greater than the Sheriff’s Office’s funding.
Whalen said $100,000 should be dedicated to this cost annually.
“It is a huge morale boost for these 63 employees,” Whalen said. “It does trickle down.”
In the event of a deputy error or accident, Whalen said it is the training or lack thereof that a deputy received that is scrutinized in the eyes of the law. He said a wrongful death lawsuit could cost the county $500,000 or more.
“We live in a time when the whole world is watching and how our deputies respond to situations,” Whalen said. “They need the best training and equipment Park County can give them.”
Between patrol and the detention center, the annual equipment budget is $63,800. Whalen identified $202,170 in equipment needs that should be addressed over the next three years.
“So what does the sheriff say when people ask for new equipment? He has to say no, there’s no money in the budget,” Whalen said.
Over-expenditures have occurred as a result of the current funding levels, Whalen said.
Also on the Foundation’s board of directors is Laurie Steward, wife of Park County Sheriff Scott Steward, and liaison Jona Harris, a current detention center employee.
Another member in an advisory status is Dave Patterson, a former sheriff’s office deputy who is now a tenured professor of Criminal Justice at Northwest College. Patterson, Steward, and Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker met with Gov. Mark Gordon recently to talk about police reform in Wyoming and the United States.
“Reforms are coming whether it’s Wyoming or not,” Patterson said. “There’s going to be some mandated reforms coming out. What better time to recognize that the sheriff’s office, they’re going to have to do this training. It’s not going to go away.”
Many nonprofits exist for the purpose of supporting law enforcement and first responder agencies, such as the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which provides equipment and resources to first responder and public safety organizations.
Some of the items and projects the money would be spent on, Whalen said, would go towards purchasing individual first aid kit equipment, psychological training, cell extraction equipment, less-lethal pepper ball munitions and Narcan nasal spray.
Title 25 training on mental health calls and procedures was also requested by employees. In 2020, the county spent $115,272 on involuntary hospitalizations and commitments.
“This might be a toe step into at least doing something with Title 25,” Park County Commissioner Scott Mangold said.
Whalen said by providing these resources, employee turnover should decrease at the Sheriff’s Office. The cost of bringing on a new deputy runs around $50,000 when considering recruitment and academy training. A loss of three deputies means a loss of $150,000 for the county.
“Over the next three years that’s $450,000 in lost revenue for Park County,” he said.
The commissioners voiced support for the Foundation at their meeting, but were non-commital to granting funds immediately.
“We might come back and say we can’t give you everything you’re asking for but we can give you this much,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said.
Livingston said he would like to see any granted funds used for matching-fund type programs that facilitate the procurement of more money.
“By all means we will do that,” Whalen said.
To donate to the Foundation, contact Sara Schauermann at (307) 460-0110 or visit pcsocharitablefoundation.org/.