CHEYENNE – Mayor-elect Marian Orr held a news conference Tuesday to announce her plan to reappoint Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak when she takes office in January.
Speaking at the Cheyenne Public Safety Center, with Kozak standing alongside her, Orr said she was impressed with Kozak’s leadership of the department since taking over in 2010, citing several favorable statistics.
“I’ve known Chief Kozak for some time. I got to know him very well during the campaign, and always found him to be professional, approachable, likeable, but above all, a true leader,” Orr said.
“You show me a 35 percent reduction in Type 1 crimes, a 35 percent reduction in vehicle crashes because of traffic enforcement and a 50 percent reduction in DUI-related crashes, and I’ll show you a police department that’s doing great work,” Orr said.
Orr’s mention of “Type 1” crimes refers to an FBI classification for the most serious criminal offenses, including homicide, burglary, rape, arson and motor vehicle theft, among others. She added that Kozak’s department has been able to achieve those numbers despite steady growth in the city’s population and an understaffed police department – something Orr hopes to see change after she takes office.
“As mayor, I want every police officer and, of course, our police chief, to know I’ve got their back,” Orr said. “I made public safety a big part of my campaign, and that’s because public safety kept coming up during my thousands of conversations that I had while campaigning door to door.”
Both Orr and Kozak referenced the seven police officer vacancies the department is currently trying to fill, as well as the difficulty in doing so as local police salaries lag behind other comparably sized communities.
Orr noted that earlier this year, Kozak himself had nearly been selected to become the next police chief of his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. While he ultimately remained in Cheyenne, Orr said she felt it’s important for the next mayor and council to provide greater incentives for all CPD officers to stick around for the long haul.
“I campaigned on putting more cops on the street, and I intend to work with our City Council to make that happens. We’ve got to retain our best and brightest,” Orr said. “Chief Kozak has been contacted by a number of cities to head up their respective police departments, and I don’t want to see him go. And I don’t want to see Cheyenne become a training ground for the Front Range, either. We have to ensure our police officers are paid competitively and that they keep up with other departments.”
For his part, Kozak said he was excited about Cheyenne’s future under Orr’s leadership, and was pleased with her focus on city infrastructure and public safety. He also discussed some of his own department’s priorities for the coming year, beginning with an effort to improve both public safety – and the impression of public safety – in the downtown business district.
“We’re going to look at a program – hopefully a multi-agency approach with community input and support – on what to do with the perception that there’s crime downtown, (particularly) in the parking garage downtown, because of transient issues,” Kozak said. “We know it’s not just a police issue, but that it has to be solved by everyone working together. And we’re excited to take the lead on that.”
Kozak said his department is also putting a renewed focus on interdepartmental leadership and promotions, as well as recruitment and retention. To the latter, Kozak said the department is aiming to be more proactive and innovative in its approach, by converting an existing sergeant’s position into one that is primarily focused on attracting talent.
“We want to take that and move it into a hiring and recruiting position so that we have somebody dedicated virtually full-time to going out to other communities and going to different colleges to find the best candidates we can to apply with our agency,” Kozak said.
As far as finding the money to fill the department’s seven vacancies, Orr said she’s been in regular contact with City Treasurer Lois Huff to discuss how that problem might best be approached.
“Really every day now I’ve had conversations with … Huff in looking at our budget and how we can best utilize the dollars we have in the budget to properly compensate our men and women within the police department,” Orr said. “I believe it’s very doable within the current budget infrastructure we have.”