JACKSON, Wyo. — A new local organization, Act Now JH, faced the Teton County Board of County Commissioners again this week to discuss defunding local law enforcement and what that might look like.
“Act Now JH is a community-led, grassroots organization,” according to their Facebook Page. “Our current focus is on defunding the Teton County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) and funding organizations that contribute to the well-being of our community.”
The group was created a few weeks ago as a product of the hundreds of community members joining protests, marches, and creating an open dialogue between community members in Jackson in response to recent killings of Black men and women at the hands of police.
“The thing driving the first meeting was that we were seeing a lot of people show up for the protest and silent demonstration, but we weren’t sure how that would translate into community action,” Kelsey Johnson, who runs social media for the group, said. “So we got together and talked about what was important to us in terms of making change.”
On the Act Now JH website, the group offers public data on what kind of calls the TCSO and Jackson Police Department (JPD) respond to and whether sending an armed police officer to those calls is necessary. They also provide data on how the county budget specifically supports local law enforcement.
“We’re not trying to get rid of all police officers immediately. Were advocating for equitable emergency response,” Johnson said. “For example, if you’re an immigrant and experience domestic violence, you may not call 911 because having a police officer show up could be dangerous to you. So we want an emergency response focused on the issues that directly impact our community.”
In 2019, only around 700 of the 44,000 calls for service to law enforcement had to do with something potentially criminal.
Currently, Act Now JH is focusing on defunding areas of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office with a budget to be set at the end of the month. Essentially, they would like to see a redistribution of police funding from specific areas allocated towards social service agencies who are trained to handle a non-violent situation without it escalating.
“We don’t want to defund dispatch and emergency services,” their website says. “When we say defund the Sheriff’s Department, we are talking about defunding very specific items within the department, not the entire thing.”
At the Board of County Commissioners meeting held Monday morning, Teton County Sherriff Matt Carr seemed open to some of the ideas pitched by the group.
“I do see that as a great way to go forward,” Carr said. “What I’m hearing from some of the programs out there is taking it a step further. When we go to those calls, having a mental health crisis counselor respond with us would be a great service to our community and I would certainly support that in any way I could.”
Carr also noted that enforcement officers with TCSO and JPD currently receive 40 hours of mental health training.
“That by no means makes us a counselor,” Carr said. “But it gives us that opening to understand if we’re going to these situations and if mental health is involved the one thing we don’t want to do is cause more harm.”
Some members of Act Now JH have gone on ridealongs with local law enforcement in an effort to open dialogue and transparency between all members of the community.
“This is a community discussion and law enforcement is a part of the community,” Johnson said. “We are trying to do more ridealongs because we want to understand law enforcement and how they handle these situations.”
Act Now JH will hold two “public comment 101” sessions aimed at providing comments on the county budget. The sessions are tentatively scheduled for June 30 at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
“I just really want to emphasize that we’re not taking this action because we hate the police,” Johnson said. “We’re taking this action because we care about our community, and want to make sure that the best emergency services are available and safe to all members of the community.”