Sheriff candidates want to increase employee pay, wellbeing

·4 min read

Jun. 22—CHEYENNE — Increasing staffing and improving conditions for Laramie County Sheriff's Office employees are top of mind for three sheriff candidates, according to comments they made at a Monday night forum.

Republicans Don Hollingshead, Brian Kozak and Boyd Wrede attended the event, which was hosted by the Laramie County Republican Party. Democrat Jess Fresquez is also running for sheriff. Jeff Barnes has said he is running as an independent, but he has until Aug. 29 to officially file as a candidate.

Kylie Taylor, the party's vice chairwoman, moderated this portion of the event.

Wrede, a 21-year veteran of the Cheyenne Police Department, brought up the issue of employee pay and wellbeing first. He said the sheriff's office is currently 47 people short, a number that Hollingshead, detention captain at the Laramie County jail, later repeated.

Hollingshead said he recently secured raises for deputies and support staff through the county's Board of Commissioners. He said pay going forward would be similar to CPD's rates, which was previously about $4 more per hour than LCSO employees.

Kozak, CPD's longest-serving chief, acknowledged that Hollingshead was working on the issue, but he said he doubted Hollingshead's changes included a step program to ensure deputies and other employees would receive regular pay increases.

Kozak also emphasized improving the sheriff's office's "leadership culture." He cited a climate survey of the department's employees conducted in January, which he said showed leadership was the top reason employees cited for leaving. (Earlier in the forum, Wrede said "manpower and money" were the top two reasons cited in the survey for employees leaving.)

Hollingshead responded to mentions of the employee survey, saying the sheriff's office "had a lot of issues going on in the jail with COVID, and having to have people come in on forced overtime." The forced overtime issue was addressed, he said, by cutting down on the time jail inmates are out of their cells.

Wrede also questioned why the sheriff's office apparently returned $4 million in funding to the county last year, and $3 million the year before, but couldn't adequately pay or retain employees.

Other issues

Wrede said deputies need to be permanently placed in rural areas of the county like Albin, Burns and Carpenter to cut down on response times, which he said are too long.

Kozak said his No. 1 goal was to "reconnect with the community." He said he wants to incorporate community outreach used by CPD, including Neighborhood Night Out and the Citizens Police Academy, into the sheriff's office. He also wants to put an emphasis on connecting with rural county residents and businesses.

Hollingshead agreed that deputies needed to work on making personal connections in the more rural parts of the county.

At one point in the forum, Kozak claimed that the jail's intake process regularly takes anywhere from three to seven hours.

Hollingshead pushed back on this, saying intake typically takes about 30 minutes. The longest the process ever took was "on a busy Friday night, while we were having to clean the facility in between each intake" because of COVID-19 policies, Hollingshead said.

Wrede later seemed to agree with Kozak, saying he'd spoken to an officer the previous night who'd waited for intake with an arrestee in his patrol car for more than four hours.

"That can't happen," Wrede said.

Kozak said he also wants to restructure parts of the jail, bringing in a formalized drug treatment program.

Prison Rape Elimination Act

Candidates were also asked if they believed the Laramie County jail should be compliant with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal law that seeks to end both inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual assault. The jail is not currently PREA certified.

Kozak said he'd like to see the jail become PREA certified because it is a requirement to take in federal inmates, which he said he wants to do. He said a contract to house federal inmates would mean more money for deputies. (Hollingshead later disputed this, saying any money from a federal contract would go to the county's general fund.) However, this could not happen until the sheriff's office is staffed properly, Kozak said.

Jail Capt. Hollingshead took the opposite stance. He said the jail is currently about 99% complaint with PREA, other than having certain staff positions. He added that he did not want to house federal inmates because of the "baggage" that comes with a federal grant. He asserted that assaults on jail staff would increase "because federal inmates really have nothing to lose."

Hollingshead added that the county attorney has told the sheriff's office "for numerous years that we do not want anything to do with PREA or housing federal inmates."

During his closing statement, Kozak said he would not be interested in a contract to house federal inmates "unless the sheriff's office got the money and it went to the employees."

Wrede did not take a position on PREA, saying that, if elected, he would have people who were experts on the subject advise him on it.

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.