PTI may get new lease on life
It's not over till it's over.
The Police Training Academy at the University of Illinois was at death's door, to the point that a vote was scheduled by UI trustees to officially close the facility.
But thanks to a last-minute push to save it by UI President Robert Easter, along with a strong assist from Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, PTI may yet continue to play a vital role in training police officers from all over the state.
It's not a done deal, but the UI is intent on re-establishing a working relationship with PTI's overseers, members of the Illinois Law Enforcement and Training Standards Board. Board members met last week and reached tentative agreement on a document that would outline the role of the board and the UI for the continued training of police officers at PTI.
The most important of the details to be resolved relate to financial issues.
The UI had seriously considered closing PTI after a series of studies in 2010 cited PTI, among other university functions, as an area where budget cuts could be made.
The study indicated that the UI was subsidizing PTI's operations to the tune of about $1 million a year. Potential savings have since been identified, but the ultimate goal of UI officials is for PTI to operate as a self-supporting unit.
Some critics have suggested that the educational role played by PTI is not really consistent with the UI's mission of teaching undergraduate, graduate and professional students and conducting academic research.
But the political reality is that the UI's mission is whatever the General Assembly declares it to be. In this case, PTI easily fits within the UI's service mission. Over the course of five decades, the institute has helped teach thousands of young and inexperienced police officers how to be effective in the many roles our law officers play.
It's not an exaggeration to say that it is vital to have intelligent, dedicated and well-trained people serving in the front lines of law enforcement.
PTI also has played an important role in drawing more people to the community as well as the UI campus, and that's important, too. How many people would not have otherwise visited the UI or Champaign-Urbana if not for PTI?
Given its long history, it's easy to overlook just how close PTI has come to closing.
So it's important to recognize the key roles played by Easter and Prussing.
Given the many years Easter has spent at the UI, he knew better than most people how important it was to keep PTI here, both for the UI and the community. Some, perhaps, were prepared to declare the financial issues irresolvable and let PTI close, but Easter, to his credit, was not.
As for Prussing, the mayor has demonstrated once again what a powerful and persuasive force she can be once she takes up a cause. As a member of the training standards board, courtesy of an appointment by Gov. Pat Quinn, Prussing talked with her fellow board members, UI officials and trustees and legislators to convince them that closing PTI need not be a fait accompli. Now it looks as if it wasn't.
Of course, considerable work remains to be done. But with any luck at all, PTI, operating under a new arrangement, will be back and running soon — maybe even better than ever.