UI investigates police institute director’s ties to Iraq security contractor

By David Mercer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The University of Illinois is investigating the ties between the director of its police institute and a military contractor best known for providing security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to university officials.

Tom Dempsey, director of the university’s Police Training Institute, requested a leave of absence to work for Blackwater USA two months after signing an agreement that lets the institute and the contractor swap students and staff and share facilities, university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

The university is investigating “a potential conflict of commitment” involving Dempsey and the contractor, Kaler said.

The home number listed for Dempsey in the university telephone directory was answered Tuesday with a recorded message indicating the line doesn’t work. An e-mail sent to his university address drew an automatic reply saying he is away on vacation.

The university is trying to find out whether Dempsey was working for Blackwater when he signed the partnership agreement on May 17 and why the agreement doesn’t address that, university provost Linda Katehi told the Chicago Tribune, which first reported Dempsey’s ties to Blackwater.

The document, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, indicates the Police Training Institute and Blackwater will work together for five years, exchanging faculty, working with each other’s students and conducting unspecified research together. Under the terms of the deal, no money will change hands.

University officials who didn’t know about the agreement approved Dempsey’s July 19 request for a monthlong leave of absence to go to Afghanistan to work for the contractor, according to Katehi.

University employees are required to sign a conflict of commitment document saying they don’t have any outside activities that conflict with their responsibilities for the university, Kaler said.

Dempsey, a former Marine, earns more than $118,000 annually in his university post.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said it is against company policy to discuss employees in sensitive situations overseas. She confirmed, however, that Moyock, N.C.-based Blackwater trains Afghan police to combat the drug trade.

She said the agreement with Illinois was related only to civilian police training. The security firm is well-known for providing paramilitary personnel for U.S. war efforts.

The university’s police institute trains people for jobs in the law enforcement and corrections field and is one of the largest such institutes in the country.

It is also one of five training centers in the state certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to train potential police officers, board Executive Director Tom Jurkanin said.

Any Blackwater instructor teaching courses certified by the board would need to be OK’d by the board, Jurkanin said. Similarly, Blackwater would have to apply to the board to offer certified courses, he said. Neither has happened.

But law enforcement agencies can and do send officers to courses not certified by the board, Jurkanin added.

Blackwater already owns a training center in the state.

In April it opened the 80-acre Blackwater North in Mount Carroll, about 60 miles west of Rockford. It has trained 187 people since, Tyrrell said. The site has drawn anti-war protesters.

Tyrrell said the agreement with the University of Illinois was not connected to Blackwater North, saying students trained under the university deal would only take classes in Mount Carroll if there wasn’t room at the police institute in Champaign or Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters.

The agreement, she said, is “not a tool for expansion; it’s a tool for heightened expertise.”