Understaffed, Overworked: Report Details Problems At U After Student’s Murder
Dec 19, 2018, 9:03 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2018, 1:08 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Investigators wouldn’t say if more police officers would have prevented Lauren McCluskey’s murder, but the tragedy highlighted the need for more staff.
Wednesday, review members released the results of a pair of investigations issued after her death. One commissioned by the university. The other by the governor. Understaffing was a key issue.
“Chief Brophy has described to us the difficulty he has in recruiting and retaining experienced police officers,” said John T. Nielsen, former Commissioner of Public Safety who worked on the university’s independent investigation.
Not only did he say they saw the need for more patrol officers, but they also need “other officers and detectives trained in the investigation of interpersonal violence in which cases are often much more subtle than simply threats of physical violence.”
Investigators say the university detective assigned to McCluskey’s case was swamped helping other jurisdictions follow up on cases that land at the U’s hospital.
“The extortion case is serious. It was significant. It was not ignored,” said investigator Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. But, compared to other cases including a strangulation and sexual abuse of a minor, she was working on, it didn’t seem as dire.
It’s no secret that officers are stretched thin as there’s a national shortage of police officers.
A local police academy instructor we spoke to says when the economy is good, people aren’t looking to be police officers.They can make more money elsewhere.
But a reduction in retirement pay a couple of years ago for new state employees has been an additional challenge here in Utah. “Those changes have made it much more difficult to recruit experienced officers particularly for an agency like the University of Utah,” said Nielsen.
“It’s a huge problem, said Shante Johnson, public information officer and lobbyist for the Utah State Fraternal Order of Police. “Especially up at the U, we have great officers, but if we had the adequate staff and the man power that we needed behind that this maybe could have been very different.”
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This problem is personal to this police officer widow who remembers living check to check, “We have over a billion dollar surplus right now and the government isn’t helping us in this crisis addressing this big problem so we can keep officers paid, staffed, and so that they can have a really great retirement.”
The Governor’s office says while this topic impacting public tax dollars merits public discussion and debate, bringing this up Wednesday is not fair to Lauren’s family.“We are disappointed that the Fraternal Order of Police chose to politicize these investigations into the tragic murder of Lauren McCluskey,” wrote Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff to the governor.
Edwards says compensation for local police departments, like the U, are local decisions and the Governor’s budget recommendations for law enforcement apply only to state agencies. He says they don’t have record of the fraternal order reaching out to their office this past year.
In response to the report, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins says the police chief is currently asking for 5 more officers and they’re doing a salary study.
She says she has faith in his leadership and ability to make change.