Representatives from the Laramie Police Department and Albany County Sheriff’s Office responded positively to new crime- and law enforcement-related pieces of legislation that came out of this year’s legislative session.
One bill recently signed by Gov. Matt Mead, Senate File 32, limits inspection of peace officer recordings. However, under the new legislation, custodians of information would allow law enforcement or public agency employees acting on official business or court orders to inspect these records — and may allow these recordings to be viewed under specific circumstances, such as if the incident involves serious bodily injury or death.
“I think there was a lot of work by WASCOP (Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police) to stay on top of that bill so it didn’t get too broad,” Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley said. “I think it ended up being acceptable to people all the way around.”
Deputies at the Albany County Sheriff’s Office are equipped with body cameras, as well as cameras on their vehicles, a measure O’Malley said is both for their protection and the protection of the public.
“Our recordings are now basically handled as evidence, which is the way we’ve basically always done it,” O’Malley said. “But if you were forced to have to release all your recordings with a request to do so, it could hamper or compromise an investigation.”
Lt. Gwen Smith of the Laramie Police Department agreed, explaining the LPD’s stance has been that recordings were “more like evidence” than police reports or information that falls under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal law governing public records requests.
“That has always been the way that we’ve determined when, or if we would release — it was the same as if it were an evidentiary type of document or recording,” Smith said. “This law follows our thoughts on it very much. So, it can be released, which we think is important if it’s appropriate, but there’s a higher level of scrutiny.”
New and expanded offenses
Another bill recently signed into law, House Bill 238, creates specific offenses for underage sexting, or the sending, receiving or forwarding of sexually suggestive images. The legislation stems from the efforts of Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent and the Albany County Community Juvenile Services Board.
O’Malley, who serves on the juvenile services board, described the new law as “good legislation,” explaining that previously, when a minor disseminated or possessed nude images of another minor, prosecutors were limited to charging the crime as a sex offense that would require the minor to register as a sex offender.
“Even though it’s a serious issue — it causes a lot of grief and heartache with people when they start sharing nude images of minors — it would make it a status offense,” O’Malley said. A status offense is a type of offense that only applies to minors, such as underage smoking or drinking.
Smith said the LPD has seen a fairly constant level of incidents involving sexting among high school and junior high school students. She expressed hoped the new legislation will help teens better understand the long-term consequences of participating in this type of activity.
“We think that that law is a great tool, and it allows us to handle sexting situations with a common-sense manner, which I think is important in those types of cases,” she said. “It was very well written.”
Several other crime-related bills were also introduced and passed this legislative session. Senate File 115 expanded the definition of felony aggravated cruelty to animals, while Senate File 33 established a criminal offense of computer extortion, or introducing ransomware onto a computer, computer system or network and requiring the victim to pay to have it removed.
“I think it’s important, because it is devastating when something like that occurs,” Smith said of the computer extortion law. “In Wyoming, we have so many small businesses … that would be something that they would not recover from, if it occurred.”
LPD officers receive updated training on new laws after every legislative session, Smith said.
“The chief goes through, the lieutenants go through that big list (of legislation) and we all try to make sure that we catch all of them,” she said. “And then the ones that don’t go into effect until July 1 — we’ll do a slower training. Right now, we’re just working on trying to find the ones that went immediately into effect, to see if there’s any that we need to get out to our staff right away.”
Safety and revenue
Some of the new legislation will have a positive effect on Albany County and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, O’Malley said.
House Bill 152 creates immunity for search and rescue volunteers who act through the coordination of a county sheriff’s office. In Albany County, volunteers regularly assist deputies with search and rescue efforts.
“I believe that’s basically been in effect for volunteer firefighters over the years, but it didn’t provide immunity for sheriffs’ search and rescue volunteers,” O’Malley said. “And that’s basically what it does — as long as they’re acting within the scope of their duties, they’re immune from civil or criminal liability.”
He added he was “extremely happy” to see another bill, Senate File 30, signed into law, as it could create an additional revenue stream for Albany County by allowing the county to contract with out-of-state agencies to house inmates in the Albany County Detention Center.
In addition to local inmates, the jail currently houses inmates serving split sentences through the Wyoming Department of Corrections, meaning they spend up to a year in jail followed by a term of probation. The county is reimbursed for these costs at a rate of $60 per day, O’Malley said.
“I don’t know how this will end up working out as far as our ability to contract with other agencies, but once the word gets out and there is crowding or overcrowding in some surrounding areas, we’d be more than happy to take some of those inmates,” he said.
Smith noted new alcohol-related laws could affect bars in Laramie; legislation passed this session eliminated operating hours from dispensary rooms and removed a section of state statute prohibiting people younger than 21 from enter areas where alcohol is served.
However, the LPD will wait to see what action, if any, the Laramie City Council takes on the matter, she said.
“They can be more restrictive than what the state has implemented,” she said. “And I don’t know that we’ve really had a chance to get their feelings on where that may go, or if they’re just going to leave them stand.”