News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Apr 19, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck
If we impose a new tax, then uniformed personnel for the specific job might be in order
It has been enlightening this spring to learn more about the day-to-day specifics on the work of a Fremont County sheriff's deputy.
Although he has shared this information with the public and the Fremont County Commission before, no doubt, Sheriff Skip Hornecker's description of the amount of time his deputies must spend on Monday matters such as vehicle identification and nuisance animal calls strikes a particularly compelling note this time.
The animal-control issues have become so involving for the sheriffs' department that the county is considering forming a new animal-control district. Another way of putting it is that the county is considering imposing a new tax to help cover the costs of burgeoning animal-control problems.
Not long ago a suggestion was made in this space about the creation of a new classification of public official, or the creation of a private enterprise that could serve as a certified authenticator of vehicle identification numbers so that sworn peace officers wouldn't need to be diverted from crime prevention and crime fighting just so they could write down a VIN number from the inside door panel of a used car.
The sheriff noted recently as well that his officers spend more time on an animal-control problems than just about any "crime" category. While some animal issues certainly do meet everyone's definition of crime, many, many of them simply do not. Yet our trained deputies must respond to them anyway.
What is true in the county is not the case in many municipalities in Wyoming. In Riverton, for example, there is a separate animal-control officer. This person is a member of the police department but does not have the same patrol, intervention and enforcement responsibilities as a typical police officer. Her job - and the position typically has been filled by a woman - is to deal with animal problems which consist primarily of unlicensed and/or stray dogs and cats.
The city by no means feels that these issues are not important, but there has been a determination that they need not be the purview of regular police officers. Rather, the animal control officer has a budget, a vehicle, and a specified protocol that is sufficient to handle almost every animal control call received.
If the county truly is moving toward the idea of a new taxation entity to generate funds for animal control, perhaps a couple of animal-control deputies could be funded. The new personnel probably would ensure that animal-control complaints are dealt with more swiftly, and the crime-fighting components of the department could spend more time on tougher crimes, less time chasing stray dogs.
Different classifications of sheriff's personnel already exist in the form of jailers, for example, and court bailiffs also are part of law enforcement but typically are not patrol officers. In other words, the precedent for a different classification of law enforcement officer already exists in our community.
While animal problems are real and require a public response, it does seem untoward that a deputy who is counted upon to pursue a suspect or subdue a violent offender must spend so much of his or her time corralling rambunctious dogs or trapping trespassing cats.
The problem is severe enough that we are considering raising taxes to deal with it. If that is the case, then a county animal control force is worth a look.