Looking out for an LEO
Packed Encampment Town Council meeting sees discussion over search for new law enforcement officer
November 20, 2019
Following the retirement of former Encampment Police Chief Grayling Wachsmuth on Oct. 30, there was barely an empty seat in the council chambers of Encampment Town Hall on Nov. 14. As was reported previously (see “School and SCWEMS” on page 3 of the Oct. 16 Saratoga Sun), Wachsmuth had tendered his resignation from the position during the meeting on Oct. 11.
The majority of the audience appeared to be composed of residents of both Encampment and Riverside, with many of them being parents of Encampment K-12 School students. Also in attendance, and listed as a public guest on the agenda, was Carbon County Sheriff Archie Roybal.
When addressing the council and Mayor Greg Salisbury, Roybal expressed his concern that the governing body would not pursue hiring a new law enforcement officer to replace Wachsmuth. In his address, the sheriff informed the Encampment Town Council that between the first of the year and Sept. 12, his office had responded to nearly 200 calls in the Encampment area.
“I know I would feel better having an individual here,” said Roybal. “I hope that me being here tonight emphasizes that you need somebody here.”
It appeared that the concern expressed by Roybal was shared by a number of those in attendance. Many of whom voiced the same concern to the council and mayor. Salisbury told the audience that he believed an issue in not only attaining, but retaining, a law enforcement officer was that “85 percent of it is total boredom with 15 percent mayhem.”
As discussion between the council and the public continued, Roybal brought up the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that once existed between the Town of Encampment and the Town of Riverside in which they shared the cost of a law enforcement officer. The sheriff asked Salisbury if that was another option to consider.
“There’s lots of options. You can hire another deputy and bring him up here too, Archie. I’ve discussed this with Riverside,” replied Salisbury.
The mayor added that the budget for a law enforcement officer was $135,000 a year. When he last spoke with the Town of Riverside, the governing body had offered only $20,000. It should be noted that Riverside mayor Leroy Stephenson was in attendance, but did not respond to Salsibury’s comments.
Mackenzie Rakness asked if the Town of Encampment had considered approaching the Town of Riverside about sharing a law enforcement officer following the events at Cherokee Meadows in August 2018. When Councilmember Kim Loftice informed Rakness that it was the intent of the November meeting to begin the process of opening up the position for applications, Rakness asked why a special meeting had not been called.
“Wouldn’t you be able to call a meeting at that point, though, and inform the town that you wanted to start an application process two weeks ago and bring everybody together? Why does it have to wait until the monthly meeting?” asked Rakness.
As she attempted to gather her thoughts, the discussion became more emotional as she recounted to the council her experience last August.
“You did not sit in your house for 20 minutes waiting for somebody to come save your life. The EMTs are worthless without law enforcement. They cannot come in and help anybody if there’s active fire,” Rakness said. “All we have is Encampment. If you have a shooter come in the school, we’re going to wait for 30 minutes for a sheriff to show up so we can save any of our kids?”
As Salisbury attempted to explain the process that the Town of Encampment would need to go through in hiring a law enforcement officer—which included background checks, physical examinations and a psychological examination—he added that the town would need to find the right person.
“You don’t want somebody that’s coming in that, two miles over the speed limit is going to write you up because I’ll hear about that, too,” said Salisbury.
“I would rather be pulled over for driving two miles over the speed limit than not have a cop at all,” replied Rakness.
“You can give me fifty tickets for going two miles over the speed limit. I don’t care,” added Encampment resident Kelly Ralston.
When it was asked by a member of the public why an emergency meeting had not been called in the two weeks since Wachsmuth’s last day, Salisbury stated that it was not an emergency situation. He added that the Town of Encampment had gone without a law enforcement officer for up to two years in the past.
“It’s not an emergency meeting at this point. The sheriff has to cover us, just like any other town,” Salisbury said.
Ralston, in response, accused Salisbury of “passing the buck” onto the sheriff’s department. Loftice, following Salisbury’s line of discussion, told the audience that Encampment had been without a police officer for four months before Wachsmuth had been hired and, “I didn’t see anybody raising a fit back then.”
Eventually, the meeting was able to continue moving forward with regular business. Following a 32 minute executive session near the end of the meeting, the Encampment Town Council returned and unanimously approved to begin advertising for a new law enforcement officer.
The next meeting of the Encampment Town Council will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 at Encampment Town Hall.