Last summer’s national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice led to calls for substantive change, and Teton County is following up on a commitment it made in November to assess the role, and perhaps funding, of local law enforcement.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners reviewed a proposal from a law enforcement task force Monday after a months-long review process of local law enforcement and community needs. Babbs Weismann, Cinthya Benavides and Bill McPeak served as three of six appointed citizen members of the task force, and they told KHOL the group did what it set out to do.
“We were very successful in reaching consensus and being kind to each other, in hearing each other [and] agreeing on things that we agreed on and disagreeing with kindness and compassion,” Weismann said.
Benavides said she’s pleased with the committee’s proposal, which encourages fostering more open dialogue between the public and the police, improving how law enforcement and social services agencies work together and looking into problem areas, such as negative experiences with law enforcement based on race or gender. “I’m really hoping that they really take this seriously and consider everything that we have in the proposal.”
McPeak said the proposal addresses a variety of concerns, including what he calls “a positive attitude” toward law enforcement as well as outreach to Jackson’s Latinx community.
The citizen committee members met four times over the course of the winter, joined by representatives from county law enforcement and social services agencies.
Sheriff Matt Carr also said he was pleased with the committee’s final proposal. “I was very honored to be engaged in a very collaborative process, in which we as a group looked inwardly at our community,” he said. “The whole goal is to try to improve what’s going on in our community.”
Moving forward, Benavides said it’s essential that any future efforts like this one include people of color, like herself. She also said she had to educate some members of the committee about white privilege throughout the process.
“There were a couple of people that kept mentioning how we don’t recognize law enforcement for all the good things they do that we only talk about the bad things,” she said. “So, I did point out that they were white males making these comments and they probably were not experiencing the same things that people of color in the community are experiencing.”
Citizen committee member Ivan Jimenez said he hopes the commission will ensure that equity is maintained going forward. Speaking during Monday’s brief and measured discussion with the county commissioners, he said some nonprofit organizations that want to participate in discussions about law enforcement might worry about losing funding from private donors who don’t agree with reassessing the role of police in the community.
“One thing I would outline there is the importance of having some mechanisms to protect institutions that serve people who are most affected by societal harms, but are also dependent on funding from specific people who might be predisposed to not be taking on an issue like this because it’s so polarizing and so political,” Jimenez said.
Several committee members, including Weismann, also urged the county not to let their work fizzle out. That’s because the next steps of who will own the process and whether any recommendations will actually get implemented are not entirely clear.
“I think that it’s really critical at this point that we have one or more commissioners who are really committed to an ongoing effort,” Weismann said, “because it could end here if we’re not careful.”
Regardless of county actions, Jackson Chief of Police Michelle Weber said she’s not waiting to start implementing some of the committee’s ideas.
“I’m tapping into some of the people on the committee and integrating them into some of the ideas I have moving forward,” Weber said. “I’ve invited a few of them to participate in hiring processes with the employees of the police department.”
Chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners Natalia Macker said Monday that further discussions of the law enforcement committee’s proposal will appear on upcoming agendas. No exact date was decided as of press time.