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Wyoming sheriff uses billboard to attract Denver police after city defunds police department

A Wyoming sheriff tries to recruit deputies by putting up a billboard in Denver, Colorado.

“Work in Wyoming, where breaking the law is STILL ILLEGAL and the police are still funded,” reads a billboard for the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office near downtown Denver.

Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak said the billboard touts the entire state of Wyoming as a law-and-order state, and that people in the Cowboy State appreciate law enforcement. He doesn’t think Denver police are much affected, after the city recently cut its police department by $8 million.

“We enforce the rules and the law, and I want people to know about Wyoming – that that is our culture here,” Kozak told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “And communities across the state support law enforcement. There is no doubt about that.”

Although it shows Wyoming in general, the billboard lists the web address of the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office in hopes of attracting officers there first, Kozak said. He said the department is also focusing on digital advertising in the Denver area.

Kozak’s department and the laws and culture of Wyoming drew an officer from the Vail area to Cheyenne last year.

Laramie County Chief Deputy Aaron Veldheer told Cowboy State Daily that he chose Wyoming over his former post in Eagle County, Colorado, “because crime is illegal here.”

“And I worked for a great agency in Colorado. I have no complaints about it,” said Veldheer. “Only the General Assembly (Colorado Legislature) is making sure that police are the bad guys.”

‘Frustrations’

Kozak cited as a possible “frustration” for Colorado police the city of Denver’s decision last month to cut its law enforcement budget by $8.4 million to address the city’s migrant crisis.

Denver is a haven, and so is Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s program that transports immigrants from his flooded southern border state.

Kozak cited another frustration: Denver city leaders on May 1 approved a policy banning officers from pulling over drivers for low-level traffic violations, after Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas called the stops time-consuming and ineffective in reducing traffic crime.

Kozak countered, noting that a patrol officer caught Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1995 after he stopped a yellow Mercury because it had no license plate. The sheriff said many drug and DUI arrests in Wyoming follow traffic stops for minor violations.

And at the height of protests against police reform in 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a law eliminating qualified immunity, a legal provision that protects police officers from prosecution in their individual capacities if they knowingly fail to exercise established rights of a plaintiff.

Kozak said his department’s recruitment brochures state that Wyoming still has qualified immunity.

Veldheer said the repeal of qualified immunity was not as big a concern to him as some other police reforms, noting that Colorado law provides other protections for officers who do their jobs in good faith.

“If you’ve done everything right, you should still be covered, but the bar for that is a lot higher,” Veldheer said, adding that he is speaking on his own behalf, and not officially on behalf of the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department. “And there are times, I think personally, when officers sometimes need to be held accountable for things — which is going to be unpopular (as a position).”

He said courts must look at each case carefully to find justice in the gray areas.

Laramie County sheriff's deputies Chapman and Wilson pose in front of a billboard their department bought to recruit Denver officers who might "frustrated" with their job there.  The billboard is located near the intersection of South Pecos Street and West Alameda Avenue, just south of downtown Denver.
Laramie County sheriff’s deputies Chapman and Wilson pose in front of a billboard their department purchased to recruit Denver officers who may be “frustrated” with their jobs there. The billboard is located near the intersection of South Pecos Street and West Alameda Avenue, just south of downtown Denver. (Courtesy of Laramie County Sheriff’s Office)

But at what price?

Kozak said the billboard in Denver, near the intersection of South Pecos Street at West Alameda Avenue, costs $2,500 for a month, and the department will not renew it after the month is up. He said these billboards would normally cost about $8,000 a month, but the person who sold him the deal also wasn’t happy that Denver had cut its police budget and given him a discount.

The Denver-based office of Billboard company Lamar did not immediately return a request for comment.

Laramie County allocated a $40,000 hiring budget to the sheriff’s office last fiscal year, said Kozak, who said the efforts could reduce costs rather than worsen them.

“That’s less than half the salary of one employee, while my overtime budget last year was $1.3 million,” Kozak said. “So we have to get aggressive in our hiring efforts to save money and hire people, and eliminate that overtime budget.”

Hire Spree

Kozak said the department hired 72 people last year in an “unprecedented” hiring spree, but still needs to fill eight patrol positions and 17 detention positions. The department’s ideal staff capacity is 260, he said.

Sheridan Police Chief Travis Koltiska said he admires Kozak’s billboard.

“I love it. It’s amazing,” Koltiska told Cowboy State Daily, adding that his department is short five officer positions, two full-time and one part-time dispatch position.

And the goal isn’t just to get warm bodies into uniforms, he said. The hope is that sufficient applications will be received from which exceptional candidates can be chosen.

Both Koltiska and Kozak said it’s fair to say that “most” law enforcement agencies in Wyoming are short-staffed.

Koltiska said a periodic notice from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation listing available positions in short lines with hyperlinks to each agency is currently five pages long.

“We have enough trouble recruiting and retaining people in this profession,” Koltiska said, criticizing Colorado’s law enforcement reform laws. “If we can attract quality candidates to Wyoming to strengthen law enforcement, I think this is a win.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at [email protected].