Ask Aaron Appelhans if he ever wanted to be a sheriff, and he will say no.

“I don’t necessarily represent or identify with everybody in law enforcement,” said Appelhans, who was appointed as sheriff of Albany County, Wyoming, in December. “I come in with some different ideas of how to go about doing things.”

Appelhans, a Black man, is now at the helm of one of the most historically white law enforcement institutions in Wyoming, one of the country’s whitest states. He is the first Black sheriff in the 131 years that Wyoming has been a state.

The appointment is symbolic for both Wyoming and the Mountain West, which has been insulated from much of the national reckoning over race and policing. Advocates of overhauling law enforcement say Appelhans’ tenure will be a test of whether change can take root in a law enforcement culture that has historically entrenched itself against it.

“The concept of reform that everybody keeps talking about, it’s coming, whether they want it, whether they like it, or not,” said Charles P. Wilson, chair of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement officers, which represents around 9,000 Black and brown officers across the country.

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