While having a highly trained police force on campus is essential to ensuring the safety of the University, UTPD’s focus on extensive training for its officers may make them attractive recruits for other police departments.
Losing officers to other law enforcement agencies in the Austin area has long been a problem within the department, according to UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom.
“UTPD officers are among the highest trained in the area,” Dahlstrom said. “Other agencies cherry pick our officers because we bring them in and train them very well.”
Lt. Darrell Birdett, who is in charge of police training at UTPD, said UTPD cadets are trained extensively — more so than at other police departments — and have the same policing responsibilities as non-university police officers.
“Training is usually a year-long process,” Birdett said. “They’re in the academy for six months and in field training for about four of five months after. We send our officers to training where other departments may send a detective or only a couple of individuals.”
Training an officer costs between $30,000 and $40,000.
“We have a very extensive training program,” said Pat Clubb, vice president for University Operations. “To put an officer through that training program and having them stay with us for only a few years after they graduate is very inefficient. We want to make sure that the officers we bring in are committed to stay for some duration — that make a commitment to the University.”
UTPD attempts to maintain a police force of 66 officers, according to Dahlstrom. Of the 50 officers UTPD lost in the last five years, 25 moved on to other law enforcement agencies in the area, Dahlstrom said.
“Round Rock Police Department seems to me like they grab more than anybody,” Dahlstrom said.
According to Round Rock Police Department Public Information Officer Donall Carver, the Round Rock Police Department currently employs seven officers who began their careers with UTPD.
Dahlstrom said pay discrepancy, geographic proximity to other departments and career opportunity are among the driving forces behind the turnover rate.
“Our officers don’t make enough to live in Central Austin,” Dahlstrom said. “So if you live in the suburbs, like most of our officers do, and you’re driving to UT everyday — 30 or 45 minutes depending on where you live — and all of a sudden you get an opportunity to get a take-home car and work five minutes from your home, that’s why we lose a lot to those smaller places.”
Recent pay incentives approved in January will help keep UTPD competitive with other law enforcement agencies.
“We have provided incentives, and we’re trying to upgrade the compensation in the police department to better represent those values and skills we would like to reward,” Clubb said.
Dahlstrom said the turnover rate will continue to be an issue, but maintains that the department is closer to being more competitive.
“We have to be, or we’ll lose everyone,” Dahlstrom said.