UPDATE: Jim Wetzel Out As Casper Police Chief; Council Members Say Interim City Manager Made The Decision
The City of Casper has dismissed Jim Wetzel as police chief effective immediately, Interim City Manager, Liz Becher said in a news release Friday.
Police Capt. Steve Schulz has been appointed as the interim police chief, according to the news release.
Becher was in meetings Friday afternoon and did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Likewise, Wetzel did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The decision was Becher's, Casper City Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay said.
"Since Liz has taken over as city manager, she has done her due diligence in looking into this and getting to the bottom of the issue, and after doing so has decided to take the police department in a different direction," Huckabay said.
The decision was the result of an internal investigation of the department and Becher speaking to every member of the police department herself, she said.
City council did not direct Becher to take the action about Wetzel, Huckabay said.
Becher now will begin the process for hiring a new police chief, she said.
The dismissal of Wetzel ended his three-year tenure at the helm of the approximately 150-staff force that includes 94 sworn officers, and about 16 years total with the department.
It also ended a tumultuous five weeks in city government -- preceded by other controversies -- that erupted at a council meeting April 4 with the announced release of a survey of Fraternal Order of Police members.
That survey cited problems with low morale among officers, a large number of officers saying they want to quit, Wetzel's authoritarian leadership, low staffing numbers, and the failure of former City Manager V.H. McDonald to follow through with a meeting of the department's command staff that aired these concerns in April 2016.
On April 17, most sworn officers in the department cast a vote of "no confidence" in Wetzel as part of a demand for a change in leadership. The cover letter of the Fraternal Order of Police's announcement stated in part: "This action is the culmination of numerous prior attempts to resolve differences between officers and staff of the Casper Police Department and Chief Wetzel, Human Resources, and the City Manager's Office."
The statement also outlined concerns FOP members had with Wetzel's hiring practices, his ethical leadership and practices, and his failure to establish and direction and vision for the department.
In March, the city council asked for an internal review of the department after numerous complaints that the department was not responsive to residents' claims that certain cases, especially sexual assault allegations, were not being properly investigated. That investigation is nearing conclusion, Becher said at Tuesday's city council meeting.
City Council also approved a $63,000 contract with the Center for Public Safety Management, LLC, for an independent comprehensive analysis of the department scheduled for completion in September.
Wetzel, who was a sergeant at the time, was named police chief by then-City Manager John Patterson in February 2014.
Patterson resigned in 2015, and McDonald became city manager in November of that year.
Becher became interim city manager when McDonald retired last month.
Councilmember Shawn Johnson said Becher has told council members she does not have an interest in being the permanent city manager.
Johnson affirmed Huckabay's statement that Becher's decision to dismiss Wetzel was hers alone.
Unlike Huckabay, he didn't know the behind-the-scenes work she did.
Johnson heard the same concerns from officers and the Fraternal Order of Police, he said. "I assume that's how this whole thing came to a head. When you have 65 percent of the police department threatening to look for another job, something has to be done."