SPRINGFIELD – State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he is renewing efforts to keep the 55-year-old Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois.
UI officials announced earlier this week that the institute, which provides training and continuing education for police officers in Illinois, would close next December because the university can no longer afford to subsidize its operation.
Rose, however, said he had suggested a funding alternative to UI officials earlier this year but never heard a response.
His plan, he said, would add a police training surcharge on all felony and misdemeanor convictions in the state. The Legislative Research Unit is gathering statistics on annual convictions and police training costs, he said.
An obviously irate Rose said he has called for a meeting next month with UI officials, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign; Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana; local police representatives; local chamber of commerce officials and others regarding the planned closure of PTI.
"I just want someone to entertain the idea of putting a fee on this thing and just listen," Rose said. "If you don't like the idea, at least show the courtesy of calling me back and saying we want to go in a different direction. But at this time it seems that nobody even knows what was going on. It's typical UI, the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing."
Frerichs said he favored preserving the PTI but said the university shouldn't be blamed for the institute's demise.
"I'm very interested in exploring what we can do to keep PTI here," he said. "What seems clear to me is that the state needs to actually fund its obligations. I don't think you can fault the university. They don't want to use tuition dollars to fund it. But hopefully we can find solutions to keep PTI at the university."
Mike Metzler, the associate director of the institute, insisted UI officials have done all they can to keep the organization in Champaign-Urbana.
"The university has really been good to us. And the chancellor (Robert Easter) has really struggled and tried to make this work. But there are other forces working against him," Metzler said.
Easter released a statement from Thursday's UI board of trustees meeting in Chicago: "We are always open to offers of assistance, and my office is working on setting up a meeting with Rep. Rose."
A campus cost review team earlier this year concluded that the PTI had little connection to the university's educational mission and that if it could not restructure itself it should face termination.
"The review report came out in May or June. It sounded like the entire campus was against us because they didn't think we fit with the mission," Metzler said. "But the chancellor's position has been quite the opposite. He saw the outreach mission for PTI and thought it was a good fit for a land-grant university.
"The question has always been should student tuition dollars be supporting PTI. And because the university's appropriation from the state, those non-tuition dollars, has diminished so much they're operating a lot on tuition dollars."
Metzler said there "are still some of us here in the unit who thinks it's a possibility" to preserve the PTI.
"I am looking forward to anyone, especially someone in the Legislature, who can get the necessary funding and understanding that this isn't the university's fault. The university has supported us, to the tune of millions of dollars over the years," he said.
Rose said he believes operation of PTI is a good match for the university's public service mission.
"I get it that we can't keep putting these costs on students. I agree," the lawmaker said. "So that should get them to come to Springfield and say, 'What can we do to keep this thing here?' It's a huge economic boon for our community. It's a feather in the U of I's cap to have our name associated with all these law enforcement professionals who have gone to the Police Training Institute. How many people started their careers at 20 years old at the PTI in Champaign-Urbana? All over the country we impact people.
"I think public safety is the most core mission of any government there is. And having our name associated with thousands upon thousands of uniformed police men and women, executives in law enforcement, people who go on to other careers in law enforcement, is huge. Why wouldn't we want the U of I associated with that? Public safety is the most core function of any government in my mind."
Frerichs agreed that the loss of PTI would be a blow to the local economy.
"It brings people from all around the state and from what I hear they spend money in Champaign-Urbana," he said.
Rose said he doesn't know if it is too late to save the institute.
"Can I sit here and promise people that this won't be lost? No I can't," he said. "They may have already inked an agreement. No one has said that. But I'm going to do everything I can to keep it. This is a huge thing for East Central Illinois."