The new Public Safety Initiative at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is meant to train better law enforcement and firefighting leaders closer to home.
The program, which launched in January, provides continuing education opportunities on leadership development, ethics, officer wellness, school safety, diversity and policing in multicultural settings that now is only offered on the East Coast, according to senior instructor and retired Colorado Springs Deputy Police Chief Rod Walker.
"The roles and expectations of law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel have changed dramatically, and will continue to evolve," Walker said. Professionals need to evolve with it, learning "better ways to do the job," he said.
Right now, Walker said it's important to discuss resiliency in the field.
He recognizes that law enforcement has had a tough couple of years. Public perceptions of policing started to change in the aftermath of the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, which largely sparked a civil rights movement further fueled by other high profile deaths of blacks in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore., Police have become targets in some cities.
Colorado Springs officers have largely been spared from the chaos but did come under fire during the Planned Parenthood shooting in 2015. Officers also are getting involved in shootings with suspects at a higher rate than in the past, and other life-threatening circumstances, like the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, are starting to take a toll.
A Gazette analysis last year found that city police were resigning at a rapid pace, many of them blaming the increased dangers of the job.
"We would be training how to deal with that longterm stress," Walker said, adding the program recently brought in an ex-Boston police commissioner to talk about how his force moved on after the Marathon bombing.
In the longterm, Walker said they hope to develop the program into a centralized public safety university-affiliated training organization serving Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.
Local law enforcement wanting to move into supervisory positions have to be trained first, and right now, that training is mainly on the East Coast. Before becoming deputy chief, Walker said he was able to attended an 80-hour supervisory school in Loveland, but the main, three-week Senior Management Institute for Police is held in Boston.
Factoring in travel expenses, housing, attendance fees and the time away from work and the training can become burdensome to a department, costing upwards of $7,500 per person, Walker said.
At a time when Police Chief Pete Carey already has made cuts in the face of a shrinking staff and tight budget, and has been calling for more money to fill out a thinning blue line, money alloted for training is "marginal at best," spokesman Lt. Howard Black said. Frequently, training requests have to be denied for lack of funds, he said.
Bringing the training out West could be a solution.
"Having the opportunity to do training locally really has a very positive impact on our staffing and ability to attend," Black said. "It saves the city and taxpayers a lot of money."
Though the Initiative is housed within UCCS' School of Public Affairs, it's separate from the bachelor's and master's courses in criminal justice.
It was started through a $1.4 million grant from local resident Lyda Hill.
Hill has a long history of giving to UCCS. She previously gave $5 million to open the Veteran Health and Trauma Clinic, launched the UCCSTeach program that trains math and science teachers, supported the Heller Center for Arts and Humanities and contributed to the under-construction Ent Center for the Arts.
"I am thrilled to be able to support both UCCS and our public safety personnel who work so hard to keep our communities and our country safe," Hill said.
Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362
Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin