Casper Police Chaplain, Iraq War Veteran Defend Embattled Chief
The recently-appointed chaplain of the Casper Police Department and a veteran who served under Chief Jim Wetzel's command in Iraq have each come to Wetzel's defense as he faces increasingly scathing criticism for his leadership of the department.
The situation, which seemed bad enough two weeks ago when Mayor Kenyne Humphrey released the results of a survey of Casper police officers and department employees conducted by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 6, only got worse for Wetzel on Monday.
A letter obtained by K2 Radio showed sworn officers -- members of the FOP -- voted 60-3 in saying they had lost confidence in Wetzel's leadership. Ten members abstained from the vote.
And as grim as Wetzel's prospects may seem at this juncture, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Joe Ostermiller on Monday sent select members of the news media a letter testifying to Wetzel's character and leadership abilities.
Here's the full letter from Ostermiller:
To whom it may concern:
I am writing this letter on behalf of Chief of Police Jim Wetzel. I've known Jim Wetzel since 2003 when I reported to the Marine Corps Reserve unit in Billings, Montana. The following year, I had the honor of serving with Jim in Fallujah, Iraq while he served as our platoon commander.
I feel very fortunate to have had Jim Wetzel as a platoon commander in Iraq. I can say with conviction that he was (and still is today) one of the best leaders I've ever had the pleasure of working for. His expectations were always clear, and his drive and motivation to improve our platoons performance through innovative tactics without undue risk to his men was inspiring. His ethics and honor in this unpredictable and constantly stressful environment never faltered. I have no doubt that these characteristics, skills and abilities (which brought our platoon home alive and well) are still clear and present in Jim's execution of his responsibilities as Casper's Chief of Police.
I would also like to mention that I am aware of the pros and cons of organizations, such as police and fire departments, that are very entrenched in tradition and union values. For nearly 9 years, I've worked in Idaho for a municipal fire department which has inevitably exposed me to some of these characteristics. While I speak below as an outsider, please remember that I am also a member of one of these organizations in which the culture is quite invariable from city to city, state to state and region to region.
After reading the articles in the Caspar Star-Tribune, it seems to me that the most prevalent pitfalls that occur in these types of organizations may currently be present in Casper's police department. The fear of change, a cliqueish pecking order, and an unhealthy sense of entitlement are these pitfalls.
I have little doubt that Jim's promotion directly from Sergeant to Chief offended some of the older department members' sensitivities and stepped on their ingrained pecking order and/or illusion that one of 'their own' was entitled to the Chief position. When the 'old guys' are slighted, they tend to bend the ears of the 'new guys' and shape their opinions. This can grow like a fungus amongst the ranks of a civilian paramilitary organization and be a recipe for disastrous group think. On top of all this, when you add Jim's innovation to improve the departments crime fighting abilities through progressive changes, you now insight the inevitable anxiety that comes with change and you've got all the worst flaws of these types of organizations in full effect. Unfortunately, improvement can't come without innovation, and innovation rarely comes without fear and controversy. I have no doubts in Jim Wetzel's leadership or abilities to continue to take Casper's PD to a new level of success.
In closing, Jim Wetzel is an honorable man with an impeccable track record of success and excellent leadership who has earned my enduring respect and gratitude. I know that the honorable law enforcement profession means the world to Jim, and I'm sure that he will continue to direct the Casper Police Department with the same expertise and care for it's personnel as he did for our platoon in Iraq 13 years ago.
Thank you for your consideration,
Former Casper police detective and recently-appointed Chaplain Wes Gudahl also wrote an email to Casper City Council and the citizens of Casper. Gudahl questions the motivations of FOP members and praises Wetzel's attempt to root out a "good ol boys" club.
Here's what he had to say:
To: City of Casper
Citizens and City Council-members,
While I recognize This letter may sever some relationships I have built over the years, I no longer can sit quietly and not speak to what I believe is right and just. Thus this letter is to urge the citizens of Casper and the city council members to be wise in response to the situation involving Chief Wetzel and his administration. I would encourage you to build a full factual base and not listen to only those who have an extreme bias.
I have survived a total of five police chiefs and interim chiefs while serving with the Casper Police Department. Every chief I worked for has strong and weak points and not one of them has been without flaw; some more than others. My point is not to bring into attention the flaws but to defend what I believe is an attack on the character of our current Police Chief, Jim Wetzel.
For too long the culture at Casper Police Department has been a "good ol boy" system that has allowed unprofessional behaviors, policy issue violations, unethical and immoral decisions to be treated as a rite of passage depending on who you know and are friends with. This culture has allowed individuals to move up through positions, continue in unprofessional behavior, and disregard moral conduct based on name and sponsorship. Those who encourage and participate in this self centered and selfish behavior refuse to see this culture as demeaning to the professionalism and accountability needed for law enforcement in today's progressive world. While working for Chief Wetzel, I observed him to to have professionalism, integrity, and a desire to effect the long needed cultural change at the Casper Police Department.
I urge restraint in making any political and personal decisions until after the formal "Independent Comprehensive Analysis" has been made. My reasons are as follows:
- Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) survey does not take into consideration what may be personal bis and motives of those who have disliked Chief Wetzel since he was a senior patrol officer.
- These disagreements have stemmed from fundamental arguments of patrol philosophy and ethics, to Chief Wetzel's continued service with the USMC.
- Officers who have been held accountable for their actions have made it no secret they believe the consequences of those actions were undeserved. They have focused their personal frustration into an attack on Chief Wetzel and his staff.
- Some FOP leaders have placed on personal Facebook accounts several comments which are derogatory and defame the character of Chief Wetzel.
- Last week on Monday April 10th, a message was sent to all FOP members and I quote (all capitalization theirs):
- "We as the board are still advising all people to please not speak of the survey results to anyone including: THE MEDIA, ADMINISTRATION and the COMMUNITY. Please direct any questions to the FOP board. You are not obligated to answer questions from ANYONE regarding FOP business. Please notify myself (names withheld) if at any time a employee of the city tries to compel you to speak for the FOP business. We will be having two meetings (locations, dates, and time withheld)..."
- I question why FOP does not want members to talk to anyone? Is it because they recognize not all members agree with the negative direction?
- I also question why FOP board members, of which the majority hold a dislike for the Chief, which to speak on behalf of all members? Is it to make sure their response is the only one heard?
- Does this mean personal bias of some FOP members may have been used to reach into professional positions and sway younger officers, who they serve with and oversee.
- As you can imagine, Chief Wetzel's plan and desire to build up the integrity of our department and to stop the "good ol boy" behavior from permeating the rank and file met with resistance from some of the past/retired command staff, leadership, and officers.
- Intentionally, or unintentionally, many of these past "good ol boy" officers have been encouraged/invited by counsel members to express their distaste for Chief Wetzel.
- However, past officers who support Chief Wetzel, have NOT been encouraged/invited to express their support... [due to the format in which this letter was provided to K2 Radio, there seems to be a portion of text that was cut off at this point. We are working to make sure we have the full letter, and will update this story when we have it.]
- Some Officers believed this survey was biased from it's inception and was going to be used as a "hatchet job" to voice dislike for the Chief.
- There are those Officers and Support Staff who are worried about expressing their support for Chief Wetzel and believe they will have reprisals leveled against them from fellow officers and supervisors.
- I was told by one officer, due to recent comments by city council members, this officer believes members of council would possibly attempt revenge against those who speak in favor of the chief.
- Some officers wish to be left alone to do their jobs and not feel obligated to chose a side which may be contrary to those who provide assistance and back-up.
- One officer even suggested during the "Independent Study Analysis" every officer be given an opportunity to express his/her voice anonymously to reduce fear of reprisals.
- These are very real fears by men and women who are pleased with the direction the Police Department is going, want to see it continue, and have no complaints.
I urge the community, counsel, and media to recognize there are two sides to every story. Chief Wetzel is often not able to tell his side due to legal restraints. Exercise wisdom and wait your decision to "tar and feather" him until after the formal "Independent Comprehensive Analysis" has been made. I believe from this study you will get a true picture of the Casper Police Departments current and past issues, needs, and concerns. Then and only then can you make an informed decision.
I close in saying, the job of a Police Officer is stressful. Upholding the law of the people is a sacred trust. I believe the Officers of the Casper Police Department are honorable and while I believe some are misguided, I also believe they do an awesome job in protecting the Casper community.
Thank you for your time,