GPD adding a K-9 officer

By: 
Nathan Oster

While calls for service were up, the number of people cited or arrested by the Greybull Police Department declined last year, falling to five-year lows as the community, state and nation grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his year-end report, Greybull Police Chief Bill Brenner indicated that the GPD made 58 arrests, down from 66 the previous year, and wrote 144 citations, down from the 217 written in 2019 and less than half than the 302 written in 2017.

Calls for service shot up to 7,540.

“It’s been a strange year with COVID-19,” said Brenner.

The chief spoke of one year-end stat in particular during Monday’s meeting of the Greybull Town Council, telling council members that he’s proud of the drop in drug arrests — there were just four in 2020, the fewest for the town since 2015 — while cautioning them against complacency.

Brenner wants to add a narcotic-detecting K-9 to the force and has an officer in Kat Wiekhorst who has expressed an interest in being paired with the dog. He asked the council on Monday night to support the acquisition of a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, named “Jimi,” from the Little Rock K-9 Academy in Arkansas.

Since it was re-established a little more than a decade ago, the GPD has had two K-9s — the first assigned to then-officer Shannon Armstrong, the other to Adam Hanna.  The latter left the GPD at the end of 2017, taking the dog with him.  The GPD hasn’t had a K-9 since — and actually reported more drug arrests in 2018 (13) and 2019 (12). The most drug arrests in a single year in Greybull came in 2008, when there were 24.

Brenner urged the council to support the acquisition of the K-9 and the training and certification of Officer Wiekhorst.  An invoice from Little Rock K-9 Academy set the cost $9,250, and Brenner said by the time all other related expenses are paid, “We’re probably going to be looking at maybe $13,000 — which is a bargain compared to the national average for a K-9.”  He estimated that to be around $20,000.

Brenner called a drug dog “an awesome tool to have,” for the police department.  In the past, the schools have called the drug in to search for illegal drugs.  Right now, though, there’s a lack of drug dogs in the area.  The sheriff’s department no longer has one, nor do other area police departments which have in the past.  As a result, schools searches are few and far between.

Brenner said “Jimi” would be trained to alert to the odors of marijuana, cocaine and crack, heroin and black tar and methamphetamine.  Those illegal drugs have been around for years, he said.  The new one on the local scene is Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. 

“I’ve never heard of it being here until recently,” he said, calling it “a scary thing.”

Brenner told the council he doesn’t believe the town has a drug problem, citing the low number of robberies, burglaries, assaults and murders which are more typical in areas that do.  That said, he told the council, “We know the drugs are here — we just can’t get into (the problem) without the tools we need, like a K-9.”

While there was discussion on the impact of a drug dog, the major hurdle that Brenner had to overcome was the cost.  Councilman Marvin Hunt challenged the expenditure, citing the council’s recent decision to add a sixth officer.

“That was supposed to be it … we were going to be done making this police department budget go up,” he said.

Hunt said he’d support bringing the K-9 in only if the GPD pledged to do it within its budget for the current fiscal year.  Paul Thur, the town’s administrator/finance director, said it could be done — but only if Brenner underspent in other line items to make up for it.  Brenner said he would make it work.

Hunt agreed that there’s a drug problem in Greybull — he’s just not sure a K-9 will make a dent in it. And he also expressed concern about future town budgets, fearing they might get “pretty tight” in the next few years.

Mayor Myles Foley said throughout Monday’s discussion that he supported the purchase of the K-9.

The council did want some reassurance from the chief that the dog would remain with the town if Wiekhorst were to move on.  Brenner said she’s working on a four-year contract, which the town required in exchanged for her training to become a certified officer at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy.  If she were to leave, she’d be subject to repaying some of those costs.

The council ultimately voted to proceed with the purchase of “Jimi” and training for Wiekhorst, which is expected to occur later this month.  “Jimi” is expected to arrive in Greybull in early February and have a working life of five to seven years.