UI, state working on keeping PTI open

UI, state working on keeping PTI open

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois and the state board that oversees police academies in the state are working toward an agreement that would keep the Police Training Institute open.

A "good working relationship" has been established between the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and UI officials following recent meetings, and both parties "are closer to establishing a cooperative relationship to provide training at PTI," said Kevin McClain, executive director of the standards board, on Friday.

But the paperwork is not done yet, he said.

A "boilerplate type" of document that would outline the roles of the state board and the university in the revisioned PTI is in the works, said Charlie Smyth, the Urbana alderman who filled in for Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing at a board meeting Thursday. Prussing has a seat on the state board.

"I think we're in a situation, under [UI President] Bob Easter's leadership, of re-establishing dialogue and a new beginning between PTI and the state. ... Out of this reorganization PTI can do research, contribute, work with all the (state police) academies, and work more closely with the standards board itself," Smyth said.

However, the institute's budget and funding sources have not been entirely worked out yet, he said. The state provides some general revenue funding for PTI, but the UI still directly funds some of its operations. The amount of the university's subsidy to PTI has varied throughout the years, but was as high as over $1 million and has been reduced by several hundred thousand dollars.

The ultimate goal is to make PTI a self-supporting unit, according to UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

"We're thrilled the state is willing to partner with us to find a way to keep PTI open," she said.

Just last week university trustees were expected to consider a proposal to close the institute, but a few days before the trustees' meeting, administrators pulled the agenda item and UI officials said they would work with legislators and the state board to come up with a way to keep PTI open in response to growing pressure from Prussing and others.

The Police Training Institute, established by the Illinois Legislature in 1955, was slated for closure after a 2010 university committee concluded the institute had little connection to the UI's educational mission. The UI could no longer afford to subsidize its operation, the report found.

Originally it was set to shutter at the end of 2011, but local politicians and legislators asked UI trustees for more time. An agreement appeared to be in the works, but in March the standards board voted to not certify the PTI's basic law enforcement training class, meaning could not long offer classes for new officers for the rest of this year. A month later Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced plans to close it.

Since the recession, PTI enrollments declined, contributing to a loss in revenue for the institute. But PTI's operations costs have been reduced and the economy is picking up, with more municipalities hiring officers again, Smyth said.

Prussing said she will continue to drum up support for PTI among legislators throughout the state.

"There has to be awareness of it as a state issue. Fine, the board can open another academy [at Western Illinois University] but don't do it by closing the best one in the state," she said referring the training and standards board's decision last year to open a police academy in Macomb in the future. "I have no problem with opening an academy at Western," she said, but not until state finances are in better shape and enrollment numbers increase.

"There needs to be some give and take. ... We need to play and work well together, to work together to explore alternative sources of funding, that's big thing," Smyth said.

McClain said the university and the board wish to expand the services provided by PTI and develop it into a "renowned education system" for police research as well as training for state police officers, McClain said.

"Down the road we could go in together to get grants, available for law enforcement-related research or even technological research," McClain said.

The agreement being written "has all the makings of a nice document where everybody benefits. The university benefits with its public engagement, the downstate Illinois communities benefit because of the convenience of having a police academy in this vicinity, Smyth said.

Once the document is finalized and signed, the institute will be able to offer basic courses again.