Guest Commentary: PTI's closure would be huge loss

Guest Commentary: PTI's closure would be huge loss

By JAMES GOLASZEWSKI

A piece of University of Illinois heritage is about to be given away, and the transaction has garnered none of the attention usually associated with such events.

The University of Illinois Police Training Institute (PTI) is part of the heritage of the University of Illinois, and of this community. Created in 1955, PTI was one of the first in the nation to train recruit police officers as professionals, and it has led the way in in all aspects of police training over the years.

Now, all of that may be coming to an end. The governing body that certifies police training in Illinois, the ILETSB, has started proceedings to "decertify" PTI and issue the certification instead to a new academy in Decatur that will be affiliated with Western Illinois University.

There have been no problems with the training provided by PTI, in fact, PTI is considered to be the "Gold Standard" of police training. So why the rush to shut it down?

At a time when the UI is struggling for money and facilities space, a very generous and benevolent donor has provided funds to construct a police training facility. However, the offer comes with strings attached. The new academy will not be affiliated with the University of Illinois, it must be in Decatur, and PTI has to be shut down permanently.

Surprisingly, the Decatur academy will be able to train fewer recruits than the current PTI facility. When you consider the fact that PTI is entirely self-supporting and requires no supplemental financial support from the UI the offer becomes even less enticing. The Decatur project is currently under construction, even though a final agreement has not yet been reached.

Effective law enforcement in a free society requires the trust of the citizens, and excellent recruit training is one of the essential steps in that process. If we recognize the importance of citizen review boards to address problems after they occur, then we also have to recognize the importance of training police recruits properly so the problems do not occur in the first place. Police recruit training is important to the safety of the recruits and to the safety of the communities they will serve.

The "inadequate" PTI facilities are often mentioned as a legitimate reason to close PTI. Conversely, the term "state of the art" is used when describing the facility being built in Decatur.

Police training is not about facilities. It is not a chemistry or computer science program where having the newest and most up to date facilities offer an advantage. Police work is about people, and police training is about people. There is no aspect of police training that we cannot accomplish now using the current facility.

PTI is already offering state of the art training because the training staff and administrative mindset is state of the art. PTI is not defined by the buildings it occupies, it is defined by its experienced and dedicated staff and a 62-year legacy of excellence at the UI.

One of the things that makes PTI unique is their use of scenario-based training. PTI utilizes trained roll players to simulate police-citizen encounters under various conditions. Now, more than ever, we need the citizen-first style of training utilized by PTI.

Because of its affiliation with the UI, PTI is able to respond more quickly with changes to recruit training in response to evolving academic research. In turn, PTI contributes to the university in that researchers are able to partner with PTI when studying topics involving law enforcement.

While the generous offer of a new facility is commendable, opening a new academy with an all new staff in another community offers no significant training advantages over our current situation. It does not justify closing one of the oldest, largest, and most respected law enforcement training academies in the nation. It does not justify abandoning 62 years of proud UI heritage and continuing excellence.

Decatur is justifiably excited and proud to have been chosen as the location for an ILETSB certified police academy. The people and political leaders of Macon County recognize the many advantages of having a police academy in their community. The people and political leaders here need to understand that their gain is our loss.

Closing the UI Police Training Institute and starting all over again elsewhere would be a huge loss to this community, the UI, the law enforcement profession, and the people of Illinois.

James Golaszewski was trained as a law-enforcement officer at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute in 1980. He served as a law-enforcement patrol deputy with the Champaign County Sheriff's Office for 35 years. For the past three years, he has been an adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.

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