New uniforms trigger debate over GPD image

by nathan oster

The Greybull Town Council made changing the image of its clad-in-black police department a priority in its 2014-15 budget, earmarking $12,000 for the purchase of new uniforms that are more in line with classic police attire.

Getting to that point, however, is proving to be difficult.

Council members and the town’s police chief, Bill Brenner, butted heads over the issue during Tuesday night’s meeting, when Brenner appeared for the first time in the new gray pants that he ordered for himself and the other members of his department.

Brenner defended the decision, saying he “got little direction from the council,” and that he was “handed money” and “told you didn’t like black.” So he “took it upon himself” to order the pants, choosing gray to go with the black shirts and vests because those two colors have been the traditional colors of the GPD.

Brenner said residents he talked with in the park on the Fourth of July liked the new look.

Councilman Myles Foley offered no comment on the gray pants, but said as far as the vests were concerned, “I thought we were discussing under armor, not the SWAT look.” Foley also stated that he didn’t feel like the council had the opportunity to provide direction on the matter.

Brenner said the color of the protective vests could be changed, but that he and the other members of his department felt safer, more comfortable and more effective in them — as opposed to armor worn under a shirt.

“What I’d like to see,” said Councilman Clay Collingwood, “is a long-sleeved shirt and an inner vest. Something that looks more professional, more like a classic police officer as opposed to a tactical one. (The GPD) shouldn’t be portrayed as a tactical department; it should be a community-minded department. We provided (that direction) in a mission statement, but I don’t see it being implemented.

“The SWAT look needs to go.”

Brenner said he disagreed. “I don’t think it looks like SWAT gear,” he said.

Councilman Bob McGuire said the look of the department is a concern the public has brought to him and other members of the council.   “It’s what led us to request, in unity, that you do the things we asked you to do,” said McGuire.

Ross Jorgensen, the council’s police commissioner, took some of the blame for the miscommunication. Saying he was out of town for much of June due to unanticipated circumstances, he said the council’s wishes may not have been fully conveyed to the chief and pledged to meet with Brenner in the coming days.

Brenner said he has made an effort to do more community-style police work. He and members of the department have participated in a bike rodeo, taught a self-defense class and spoke in area schools about safety, and plans are in the works for a citizens police academy.

“I heard when all this started that we weren’t approachable, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing, I guess,” said Brenner. “I talked with people in the park, joked with them, for two straight hours on the Fourth of July. I’m not seeing where people fear us. I feel like we are approachable.”

Councilman Myles Foley asked whether Brenner or his officers were doing foot patrols during the day. Brenner said officers walked the streets and visited with people during the Days of ’49, but don’t make a habit of regularly doing so because they don’t want to be very far away from their cars in the event of an emergency or crisis elsewhere in the town.

Collingwood wondered why foot patrols and business visits couldn’t happen during the day, when two officers are often on duty. Brenner said that is the time when he does his administrative work, and that if he’s out walking the streets, his workload would fall upon someone else in the front office, such as Administrator/Finance Director Paul Thur.

Collingwood called for a detailed breakdown of the administrative duties that Brenner performs. Mayor Bob Graham said that information was presented to the council about a year ago as part of a larger review of the GPD. But Jorgensen, the police commissioner, said that the information is available and that he would be happy to provide it to Collingwood.