The University of Connecticut has hired 11 new officers for its police department.
The officers will be graduating the police academy this fall. Deputy Chief of Police Hans Rhynhart hoped to make clear that the incoming officers are not creating “new” positions, rather, they are filling vacant ones.
As of right now, this raises police presence on the Storrs campus to 53, up from 48 last year. Regional campuses will now have 22 officers assigned to them, which makes one more than last year.
These hires are a result of an often-lacking police department last year, forcing many officers to work overtime. UConn spends over $800,000 annually on overtime pay, and the university hopes the 11 incoming police officers will decrease that number.
Just last year, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill into law that allowed UConn to have total control over police hires. There is no longer state oversight for UConn’s police hiring practices. This allows the university to bring in new officers much quicker, and for longstanding vacancies to be filled.
The police force at UConn compares favorably to the University of Massachusetts, a university of similar size, which has 65 sworn personnel in Amherst. But the number of police officers on any given UConn campus can fluctuate due to state police involvement.
“Adjacent departments can have an impact in staffing, each community is different and staffing requirements require in-depth analysis, to include surrounding department size,” Rhynhart wrote in an email.
The incoming class of police officers has the UConn Police Department (UCPD) at its full authorized personnel strength for the first time in years, as the last three have seen between 11 and 12 vacancies a year.
“The new officers will add additional personnel to our front-line staffing, the uniformed officers who work in the community on a day-to-day basis,” Rhynhart said. “Their addition will also allow us to begin filling vacant positions in other areas of the department like the detective bureau, community outreach unit and others. They will also help the current staff in working overtime assignments and other extra duties so that we are able to give staff proper rest.”
UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Rietz talked the administrative side of the decision to hire the police officers.
“The division’s budget proposals, including personnel spending, are reviewed by President Herbst and her administration before they’re included in the overall annual budget proposals submitted to the Board of Trustees for its vote each spring,” Rietz said.
“Although they’re not directly involved in hiring the individuals, they’re well aware of the need and agreed in their approval of the budget that these are necessary and valuable positions for the police department and university as a whole,” Reitz said.
After UCPD conducted its own review of applicants, those who impressed in interviews and passed tests including a psychological exam were sent to the police academy. Their graduation is soon.
Bennett Cognato, the USG senator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, expressed the hope that a fortified police force would be able to help in other ways aside from strictly campus security.
“I know the UCPD has been working on testing and training for new officers for a while now, so I think we can only hope they’re trained well and have the best interests of students and community policing in mind,” Cognato said.
“Last year we saw an increase in drug arrests during the first months of the fall semester compared to the year before. Hopefully the addition of eleven new officers will give students access to more trained personnel for self-defense classes, sexual assault prevention and special victims services instead of an overly protective or authoritarian police presence on campus,” Cognato said.
With reports of ATVs used to drive students off sidewalks and back towards campus on weekends, and with police not allowing non-residents into residential areas on weekends, it must be kept in mind that, as Deputy Chief Rhynhart said, UCPD wants “a bigger footprint during the day, and for people to see us more.”
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.