CEDAR RAPIDS — Should the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s Police Academy train officers from outside agencies?
Police Chief Wayne Jerman says yes. Recruits from different communities training together helps create better camaraderie when they need to cooperate later in the field, he contended.
However, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy council, which governs the state’s academy in Johnston as well as regional academies such as those in Cedar Rapids, twice has said no — unless those departments can prove sending their recruits to the state academy would create a hardship for the officer.
Complicating the issue are funding issues, unwritten rules, 40-year traditions and agreements between agencies that allow for dramatic discounts on training.
And two of the area’s top law enforcement officials — Jerman and Linn County
Sheriff Brian Gardner, a member of the ILEA council — stand at opposite ends of the debate.
The issue dates back to June, when the Hiawatha and Lisbon police departments and the Sixth Judicial District Department of Corrections requested permission from the ILEA council to send officers to Cedar Rapids’ academy for training.
Gardner said those requests historically have been granted by the ILEA director. In fact, according to data provided to the ILEA council by the CRPD, of the 638 officers trained at the Cedar Rapids academy since 1970, 222 came from outside agencies, including the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa City, Coralville, Marion, Hiawatha, Lisbon and Mount Vernon police departments, among others.
However, ILEA director Arlen Ciechanowski several months ago shifted the responsibility of approving those requests from his desk to the 13-member council, made up of police officers and chiefs, sheriffs and deputies and community members.
The first requests to come to the council came from the three Linn County departments.
“The Sixth Judical District, Lisbon and Hiawatha all wanted to send recruits to the (Cedar Rapids) regional facility,” Gardner said. “None of them could provide hardship … . To us, clearly, we did not see a hardship.”
Gardner said an example of an acceptable hardship would be a single parent trying to attend the academy while caring for his or her children at home.
The council denied the three agencies’ requests.
Jerman said when he heard of the council’s decision, he contacted Ciechanowski.
“It had always been the director’s decision to grant approval for that request,” Jerman said. “He advised this was a board decision.”
Jerman was granted an opportunity to appeal to the council during its August meeting. Joining him at the meeting were chiefs from the Iowa City, Coralville and Hiawatha police departments, The Eastern Iowa Airport’s public safety commander and a representative from the Sixth Judicial District.
Jerman told the council his academy fostered a regionwide working relationship among the Eastern Iowa agencies and, while not indicating his academy was better than the ILEA, said his offered a better student-to-instructor ratio.
The board — minus Gardner, who was out of town, and one other member — ultimately voted 5-6 not to overturn the previous ruling.
Jerman said the board wanted to “promote and foster a strong centralized academy.”
What it comes down to is funding, said Gardner, who added he would have voted with the majority had he been at that meeting.
Gardner said the ILEA has been “severely underfunded” in recent years, and two-thirds of its budget comes from tuition fees — about $5,500 per officer. Only a third of its budget comes from the state.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office had a long history of sending deputies to Cedar Rapids’s annual academy whenever the timing worked out. That continued until the beginning of Gardner’s tenure as sheriff, when the ILEA’s funding issues became apparent.
“Once I was aware of that funding issue, it became more concerning to me to make sure that strong, centralized training academy be funded,” he said, noting that reflects the position of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association.
Gardner is one of the ISSDA’s representatives on the ILEA council.
Gardner said he has not sent a deputy to Cedar Rapids’s academy since 2010 or 2011, with the hope of providing the state academy with a steady funding source. That was his rationale for backing the council’s decision, as well.
Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said he believes Cedar Rapids should continue to be able to accept officers from outside agencies. He’s not alone.
At its September meeting, the Iowa Police Chiefs Association unanimously voted to back legislation that would address this issue.
“We’ve been able to send officers to Cedar Rapids and the ILEA, and I think it’s unfortunate they take this stance,” Hargadine said.
Hargadine said taxpayers ultimately could be the ones who take the hit.
Iowa City, Coralville, Johnson County, North Liberty and the University of Iowa all have made arrangements with Cedar Rapids that involve providing funding to the city for its outdoor gun range. In exchange, those agencies can train for free at the academy and gun range.
That the ILEA needs more funding is not in dispute, at least not for Jerman and Hargadine. But those chiefs say there are better ways to obtain that funding.
“Let’s fix the funding issue,” Jerman said. “Let’s not jeopardize those other smaller agencies.”
In addition to pursuing potential action in the Legislature, Jerman said he also has challenged the ILEA to prove it has the authority to deny the agencies’ requests to attend the Cedar Rapids academy.
On Friday, Gardner said he and Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy, chairman of the ILEA council, tried to determine if the council actually could turn down those requests. They found the council was never granted those powers, at least not officially, he said.
“You’re not going to see where this requirement exists that the agencies need permission from the academy council to attend regional academies,” Gardner said.
“It’s always been that way. It’s been an unwritten rule. There is not actually a rule that exists.”
With that in mind, Gardner said he’s going to ask Ciechanowski to put the matter on the ILEA’s agenda for its December meeting.
“We want to examine this to see if, in fact, the decisions made at the two previous meetings were appropriate,” Gardner said.
Despite their disagreement on the issue, Gardner said his relationship with Jerman remains strong.
“Wayne is frustrated, I think as much as I am, that we can’t get the academy funded to the level it needs to be,” he said. “We still get along very well. That is important. That should not be overlooked.
“It doesn’t interfere with the way our agencies work together.”