University Heights loses three officers: Is it part of a broader issue?

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(KWWL) – The city of University Heights is losing two more full-time police officers, which comes after the city’s chief resigned in February.

Even though the city has filled the chief position and is working towards filling the positions of the other two officers, it highlights a bigger issue of are there enough people in law enforcement to go around.

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo teaches a Basic Level II law enforcement academy, a secondary step to the entry academy. They’re one of two in the state doing so.

“It’s us and Western Iowa Tech,” said Patrick Fisher, Law Enforcement Academy Coordinator, “WIT hasn’t run anything this year and probably isn’t going to run anything. They’re having a problem, my understanding, with the numbers. Simply not enough people interested.”

Being in law enforcement for years himself, he said a lot has changed in the profession in terms of training.

“The requirements change. They can vary from as little as a couple hundred hours of basic training to places like California and New York where they spend six months in a police academy,” he said.

Fisher said Iowa’s basic training for law enforcement is between 15 and 16 weeks. They can then go on to Hawkeye for further training. Many are sent to the college by the agency they work for. The extra training teaches officers how to handle their own stress from the job and situations that may not have been a problem in years past.

An August 2018 report from the Department of Justice shows the number of sworn law enforcement between 2013 and 2016 has fell by nearly 23,000. However, the national population has grown by more than 7 million.

Fisher said while Hawkeye has never has an issue filling a class, some parts of Iowa may have trouble filling a job.

“We have some very rural communities, but law enforcement is a very necessary part of it,” he said, “In some areas, the sheriff’s office is taking up the slack because of small police departments.”

Another case is officers moving on from one department to another. This is the case of University Heights.

“The bigger the department, the more opportunities that will be available to them,” Fisher said.

University Heights Police Chief Nate Peterson said he and the other two officers have accepted jobs at bigger departments or closer to family.

Peterson submitted his resignation in February and his last day is next week. The city has hired a former Iowa City police captain to assume the role as chief.

Peterson said they also have several qualified applicants to be interviewed for the position of the two officers.

He said, being a small city and department, the salaries aren’t as high as the neighboring communities of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty. However, the pay is similar to that of other communities of their size.

University Heights Mayor Louise From said turnover is to be expected and that those on their force are highly qualified, therefore having new opportunities. “Our police force is full of highly qualified young men and women who can and do often find themselves with many opportunities at their disposal,” she said.

Collin Dorsey

Collin Dorsey

Weekend Anchor
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