UAF Police Department faces severe budget cuts
Erin McGroarty / Sun Star
In the struggle to address the University of Alaska’s fiscal crisis, the Alaska House finance sub-committee has recently proposed cutting the UAF Police Department’s budget by one-third.
According to UAF Police Chief Keith Mallard, that means a cut of approximately $527,000.
At the moment, 67 percent of the police department’s budget is spent on commissioned police officers, 24 percent is spent on dispatchers and 8 percent is spent on community service officers. A cut of this size is disconcerting to Chief Mallard, as this means significant cuts to personnel and staffing spending, which could result in lost positions at the station.
This is not the first time the police department has faced budget cuts.
“We’ve been cutting for years now. We essentially trimmed out everything we could,” said Mallard. “Right now the vast majority of our budget is personnel costs or staffing. People. With cuts at that rate it creates some huge challenges for us.
“We’ve been through three years of reductions already,” Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services, Kari Burrell said. “And we’re getting to the point where the things we have left are the things we really want.”
Chief Mallard’s biggest concern is safety on campus. Burrell also feels that the police department is a great addition to campus safety.
“It’s my belief that when we are good at what we do, which I believe we are, we end up preventing a lot of the escalation of behavior so you don’t see as many of the bigger crimes on campus,” said Mallard, “With reductions in staffing it makes it harder to maintain that presence on campus.”
The UAF Police Department currently has nine commissioned police officers, typically having only one on duty at a time, with the exception of times of the week that Chief Mallard refers to as “peak times” such as weekends.
“We’re constantly walking around, whether it’s the CSOs or the Officers. And when people see that, even if it’s just subconsciously, they feel safer,” Mallard said. “Instead of worrying about how you’re going to get from your classroom to your dorm in the dark, you can worry about your actual class. That’s why we’re here.”
On top of regular campus patrol, the police department also runs personal safety programs such as Green Dot and Violent Intruder trainings. Mallard says with budget cuts of this size, programs such as these will be out of the question.
“All those proactive things that we’ve been able to do, we won’t be able to do anymore,” Mallard said. “Those programs will be cut.”
“We are trying to be responsive but we’re also trying to change a culture on campus,” Burrell said. “The police department has been a huge partner in that. We try to focus on preventing things from starting in the first place. It’s the ability to try to get out in front of things and be proactive. That is something I think we could lose if we’re not careful.”
After years of budget reductions across campus, Burrell says the police department does not have a lot left to trim.
“I think it’s tough at this point,” Burrell said. “There are smaller cuts like maybe reducing equipment purchases. But they’re not going to be enough to get us to the point in budget reductions that the legislature is talking about.”
Burrell feels that having a campus police department is important for the purposes of student specific responses.
“I think the value of having police on campus is they know the community, they know the students. They’re here,” she said. “So to me it would be a big loss if we didn’t have an on campus police department who can be responsive and can approach complaints in a way that is sensitive to the fact that the experiences of students might be a little different from the experiences of other populations.”
Until the university hears back on the decisions of the legislature, these budget cuts are only mere guesswork.
“Nothing’s set in stone,” Mallard said.
Burrell encourages students not to be passive regarding these potential changes at UAF. Be proactive in responding and shape the agenda, she said.
“I do hope that students will be active in talking with folks in the community and at the legislative level about the things that they value at the university,” she said. “Folks tend to think they know what students want, courses and professors, etc. Of course there’s that, but there are also those other pieces as well, which includes a safe campus.”