Activists and law enforcement are again discussing policing as Teton County prepares to approve budgets Tuesday for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
In recent weeks, a handful of activists aligned with Act Now JH have shown up at county meetings asking the Teton County Board of County Commissioners to, among other things, continue investing in an assessment of interactions between police, human services and people in crisis. They’ve also asked the board to hold Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr’s budget flat — or decrease it — and questioned some of its spending proposals.
Carr told the Jackson Hole Daily he is “absolutely supportive” of the push to continue the assessment while also pushing back on some of the activists’ positions.
The law enforcement assessment came as a result of a wave of activism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced Friday to 22 1/2 years in prison for Floyd’s murder.
Forming in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, Act Now JH convinced county commissioners to fund a task force, which in March recommended spending another $25,000 to $75,000 for a committee to continue exploring the roles of policing and human services in the community.
“I’m really here to continue advocating that you all continue to invest in this process,” Ivan Jimenez, an Act Now member who sat on the committee, told commissioners in June. “It was a powerful opportunity to see what it’s like when people in power come together and hear from people in the community who are very passionate about these issues.”
Teton County Clerk Maureen Murphy said $50,000 for the effort has been included in the draft budget set to be approved Monday and Tuesday.
But the activists and Carr differ over their interpretations of changes to the sheriff’s operational, communications and jail budgets, which are typically grouped together as the “sheriff’s budget.” They are set to increase from $7.9 million to $8.7 million, or roughly 10%, over the current fiscal year’s budget.
Carr said part of the increase is a 2.5% merit increase the county is set to approve for employees, as well as increasing costs of contracts for statutorily mandated services like feeding and providing medical care for inmates.
Jimenez, for his part, told commissioners he wanted to see the sheriff’s budget held flat because the assessment is not over.
“The direction of this process could very much lead to a different direction,” Jimenez said.
Carr said holding the budget flat would require cuts, particularly because some of the department’s work is required by law.
“If they were to cut our budget or keep it flat, we would have to lose services,” he said.
Activists also questioned the department’s proposal to increase firearms spending while decreasing money for training.
Sophia Schwartz, an Act Now JH member who spoke at a June voucher meeting, pointed to the sheriff’s request for an $11,000 year-over-year increase for firearms and ammunition. She contrasted that with a $15,000 decrease in the sheriff’s request for training.
“I would love to see other people step up and take that $15,000 the sheriff’s department doesn’t want and put it towards real training, real training for mental health, real training for sexual assault,” Schwartz said at the meeting.
Carr said the level of training for deputies is not decreasing and his department is instead pursuing efficiency. He also said the cost of ammunition has increased during the pandemic, and another reason for the increase in the firearms budget is because the department is replacing its weapons.
“Ammunition has tripled in price,” he said. “It’s not like we’re buying more of it. It’s just getting more expensive and that’s because of the pandemic.”
The Sheriff’s Auxiliary, a private group that supports the office financially, is paying for the replacement weapons, Carr said.
The county is set to foot the bill for new holsters that sheath the sidearms.
Carr said the weapons are being replaced because they’re 10 years old, older than “best practices would recommend.”
After hearing Carr’s justification, Schwartz told the Daily she appreciated his transparency.
“I understand Sheriff Carr’s rationale,” she said. “But it doesn’t address the question of ‘Why do we spend $26,000 a year on ammunition to start with?’ ”
Carr said the department purchases roughly enough ammunition to keep officers trained in using firearms.
On the training front, Carr said that his department is finding some savings by having a sergeant certified to train officers in house. And he said he’s done some training — like a recent training on victim-focused interviews funded by the Community Safety Network — with the help of community partners.
But Schwartz questioned that arrangement.
“It feels as if the money from those nonprofits should be going to serving their clientele, rather than training our police officers,” she said.