CASPER, Wyo —After a month of nationwide protests and calls for police reform legislation passing all the way through the U.S. House of Representatives, Evansville Police Chief Mike Thompson has already made a departmental shift aimed at giving the town’s citizens “a more personable” relationship with the police department.
Brandy Nestor is the department’s new community service officer. Nestor and Thompson met with Oil City News July 3 to discuss the new position. In additional to code enforcement, she’ll also be handling animal control. Nestor was a veterinary technician in Jackson for the last 3 years, before which she was a zookeeper at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida. After handling lions, cheetahs and zebras, she’s more than confident she could trap a raccoon.
“The code enforcement stuff is new to me, but I’m learning it. It’s interesting. A lot of it to me is common sense.” Nestor said.
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Thompson said Nestor’s experience with animals was what put her over the top with the hiring committee, which interviewed 14 of the 72 total applicants for the position.
Thompson, who took over as Chief at the beginning of 2019, said the municipality has not had its own animal control unit in 30 years. Metro Animal Control in Casper had handled the task, but Thompson said response time was intermittent and services billed could sometimes run $5,000 a month. He said the new position would save Evansville’s tax dollars from that standpoint alone.
Now animals picked up by animal control will be boarded in a facility in Mills, and unclaimed animals will go to The Human Society when there are openings.
Thompson also said he and the Evansville Town Council had heard consistent complaints about rampant weeds, derelict vehicles, animals at-large, and fire hazards, and that officers were having a hard time keeping up. “[When emergent calls come in], it’s very difficult for police officers to attend to the citizens’ complaints when it comes to this kind of stuff.” Thompson said. “So having somebody specifically in that position is going to be a huge benefit to the community.”
Thompson said the new position would make code enforcement more “effective and personable,” and protect property values in Evansville by making it safer and more appealing. “I think in a year to two years, everyone’s going to see the impact she’s going to have on the community. She’s going to be a great asset.”
Thompson said, saying he hoped the community officer position would help “defuse” neighborly conflicts that might otherwise escalate into violence. “Some of the calls we take start with animal control.” He recalled an incident where police responded to a call of a man with a gun had begun because the man’s cats were attacked by a dog.
Thompson said that unfortunately “social media and division in society” had degraded interpersonal communication in communities.
“30-40 years ago, most people went to somebody’s house when they had an issue and knocked and said, ‘Hey, I got an issue, can you turn it down?’” He said today people are less comfortable with confronting their neighbors and are relying more on law enforcement.
Thomson said in his time as Chief of Evansville PD, he’s been working with the department on nonverbal communication and managing the “atmosphere” of conversations with the community. He passes along insights from a highlighted copy of the “The Art of Communication” on his desk. “People don’t want robots in community service,” Thompson said,
Thompson said Wyoming has done better than other parts of the nation at embracing the “concept of community policing.” He said law enforcement officers have to grapple with complex environments and play many different roles: problem-solvers, crime-stoppers, investigators , counselors, and teachers.
Nestor started the position June 15 and has served 39 code-violation notifications. Her training the last two-and-a-half weeks has included radio communications, report writing, situational approach and tactical medicine. On July 1 she responded to her first dog at-large, and on June 2 to the first dog bite, which was minor. Both she and Chief Thompson attributed the animal’s behavior to its environment.
Nestor will patrol Evansville in a ubiquitous new used grey Dodge Ram 1500, which she’ll also use for traffic control.
“We got a really good deal on that.” Thompson said. “It smelled brand new inside and had 20-some thousand miles on it.”