U Police gain technology from grant program

Sarah McKenzie

Rep. Martin Sabo, DFL-Minn., applauded federal grant programs last week that add police officers to departments across the country, pointing to the University Police Department as a success story.
Sabo said the grant programs — which have granted the University Police Department $297,678 — have been instrumental in curbing crime in the area.
The Community Oriented Policing Services federal grants approved by the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act were intended to add 100,000 new police officers to departments across the country. Sabo said the goal has been met.
But an investigative report published by the Chicago Tribune on Sunday indicates only 41 percent of the 100,000 promised police officer positions have been filled. And a significant portion of the hires have been civilians, not trained police officers.
The University Police Department is no exception.
In spite of the grants aimed at putting more officers on the streets, University Police Lt. Steve Johnson said the department is still understaffed.
He added that 43 police officers is the optimum number for the department. To date, he said the force is seven officers shy of that goal.
Two new officers were hired as a result of the grant money. A civilian was also hired to free up an officer from office administrative duties, said Julie Gfrerer, an administrative secretary for the department.
Sabo noted that roughly half of the grant money allowed the University Police Department to hire two new officers in 1997. The other portion was used to finance technological improvements such as equipping each squad car with a laptop.
That computer project is still underway, Johnson said.
Although the money has not put many more officers on the campus streets, Johnson said the grant money has made an impact on daily operations.
“Practically speaking, the money for technology has been most effective,” Johnson said.
The laptop computers in the squad cars have freed officers from time-consuming administrative tasks, he said. For instance, officers are able to check driver’s license information with the laptops.
Only a handful of the cars are fully equipped with the new technology, but Johnson said the computers put the department at an advantage compared with other agencies.
“We are on the cutting edge,” Johnson said.
Despite the officer shortage, Johnson said the department has still managed to focus on community-oriented policing — the initial goal of the grant money. “We have been more proactive,” he said.
Gfrerer concurred, adding that the technology projects funded by the grants have saved the officers a lot of time.