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Growing police travel budget should prompt search for solutions

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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From fiscal 2006 to 2010, the travel costs for the University of Iowa police — largely incurred by sending officers to training in Johnston, Iowa, and out-of-state — have more than doubled. What required approximately $35,000 five years ago now eats up $75,437 of the budget; however, the costs of travel aren't the only thing that has changed.

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, told the DI, "When I first started [30 years ago], you saw men and women, their entire career, stay with one , and a lot of people didn't have college degrees … It's the exact reversal now."

These days, campus-police recruits have big ambitions but little training — precisely why the sent 26 of its 32 hirings since 2006 to training, costing nearly $7,000 per officer for the 13-week course. After being trained and gaining preliminary experience, these officers tend to move on to higher-status jobs with different agencies fairly quickly.

Which is precisely why the UI police should stop footing the bill. It makes little sense for the university to pay to, essentially, train other institution's security personnel. With proportional state funding for the state Board of Regents' universities at a record low, the UI needs to start finding ways to cut costs; this is a perfect example of an area that could use some creative pruning.

By hiring more trained officers or instating a contract requiring trainees to remain with the campus police for a number of years, there's little doubt that travel costs could be effectively decreased. At minimum, the university would get more bang for its buck.

But an even more effective cost-saving initiative would be instating a program similar to Michigan State University's "green coats" — part-time positions in which students assist with security at major university events.

"The green coats were first established to work football games, searching blankets and coats and anything carried in" for objects not allowed on the premises, such as alcohol or weapons, special-events officer Dave Oslund of the Michigan State University police told the DI Editorial Board.

The program is one of the highest paying student jobs on campus, Oslund said, and it attracts roughly 100 applicants per year. The students (and some staff) have had such success with the "green coat" program that they are now the "sole providers" of security at home football, basketball, and hockey games.

With the level of security needed at home Hawkeye football games and the increasing need for student employment, the UI police would be wise to adopt a similar program. (Plus, UI students don't need $7,000 training to sniff out hidden alcohol.)

This is not to negate the importance of well-trained officers when it comes to serious security issues on campus. Certain new hirings, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers, require out-of-state training, as do several new specialized officers. However, for basic training, the campus and city police could easily collaborate and mutually benefit from an on-site center. (The University of Illinois, which trains its officers on-site, expends roughly $18,000 for travel per year – the UI spent nearly twice that, even in fiscal 2006, its lowest-cost year.)

A final obstacle for the UI police is retention. Why is the job turnover rate so high, and what are bigger departments offering that is so enticing for officers? Instead of paying top dollar to train personnel from seven different departments for the Threat Assessment Team, perhaps some of the budget could be used to answer the aforementioned questions. Seventy-five thousand dollars could bankroll incentives for longer commitments instead of training for highly transient employees.

Between a hard glance at retention, questions about hiring practices, and the possibility of a student-help program, there should be some ways to handle burgeoning costs.

And with the police 's inflated budget only slated to further increase, it is time to invest in some alternative and cost-saving measures. We shouldn't be paying to train other institutions' police officers.


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