New training mission would increase its value, they tell trustees
SPRINGFIELD — Champaign-Urbana lawmakers appealed to University of Illinois trustees Friday to keep the 56-year-old Police Training Institute open in Champaign, outlining a vision for a research-based academy that could be a global leader in fighting cybercrime and researching community policing efforts.
The contingent was made up of state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, state Reps. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. Each spoke of the institute's importance to the community and the state.
The legislators plan to introduce a bill in the spring that they hope will save the institute from closure.
"We're willing to work with the university and the communities to come up with a way to keep (the institute) going," Jakobsson said.
"We are committed to keeping it in Champaign," Rose added.
In November 2010, the university announced plans to close the Police Training Institute after a campus review concluded the institute had little connection to the university's educational mission and the UI could no longer afford to subsidize its operation.
A campus committee recommended the institute close at the end of this year, but that has been delayed another six months, said Barbara O'Connor, the UI's executive director of public safety and head of the institute.
In September, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which governs the institute, voted to set up two new residential academies, a move seen by some as hastening the program's demise at the UI. The board voted to create a new academy at Western Illinois University, which already has an extensive undergraduate police training program, and a new residential component at the pre-existing law-enforcement training program in the Southwestern Illinois College Police Academy in Belleville.
Prussing, who sits on that board, said the move to open additional academies was "wasteful."
"You don't just destroy the best thing and start over again," she said.
Prussing said local governments could be willing to help fund the institute by, for example, charging a small fee for events that require policing.
Rose proposed a year ago that the state impose a fee on all criminal convictions to fund police training academies in the state, including PTI.
Rose said he met with former Chancellor Robert Easter and other UI officials earlier this fall to explore that idea further and suggested a broader vision for the institute to make it "a world-class destination for law enforcement."
The institute currently provides training and continuing education for police officers in Illinois, but a newly re-envisioned institute could be more of a research-based unit similar to the Fire Service Institute at the Urbana campus, O'Connor said.
In the past, the institute has suffered from a "lack of connection to the campus," O'Connor said. She and institute staffer Mike Schlosser are working on what she described as a "vision paper" that takes a look at various opportunities around campus. For example, the institute could work with the Department of Kinesiology on preventing officer injuries or incorporating technology into investigating crimes.
These are ideas Rose supports.
The Pentagon, he said, now has a commander for cyber warfare and "what better place to begin discussions and do (research) ...?"
The idea is to make it "an academic, research-driven institute that could produce tangible results for society," he said.
"There's a lot of opportunity," O'Connor said.
"This has been a long process. To the university's credit we are leaving no stone unturned about the Police Training Institute," before a decision is finalized, she said.
O'Connor and Schlosser's "vision paper" will help draft the legislation to be proposed by the legislators next year.
After speaking to trustees, Frerichs said he felt confident "we bought ourselves some time."
Rose said he understands the university cannot subsidize the institute, but he thinks the state can raise money with a fee that could be transferred into the university's funds to offset its subsidization.
This fee, of perhaps $25, could be on all felony and misdemeanor convictions in the state, Rose said. Convicts sent to prison probably wouldn't be able to pay it, but most cases are referred to probation or court supervision and the fee could be easily collected, he said.
"We feel there would be more than enough funds through such an approach. It wouldn't cost taxpayers anything. It wouldn't cost students anything," he said.
Rose said the revamped PTI wouldn't necessarily compete with the training academy proposed for Western Illinois. In fact, graduates of those academies might come to the UI for advanced training in computer crime and community policing, he said.
Rose said PTI generates $7 million worth of economic impact for East Central Illinois.
It also lends prestige to the UI, he argued. Graduates from the institute go on to careers in law enforcement across the globe, from police chiefs to FBI agents to the heads of international security firms.
"This is something that should be viewed positively by the university community as an opportunity to have that UI brand literally all over the world," he said.
"We don't want a short-term financial difficulty to halt a program that people depend on," Prussing said.
This community, the state and country need more community-based policy and less misuse of pepper spray and bullets, and the UI can help lead the way, she said.