Trustees need to reconsider fate of PTI

The doors of the Police Training Institute are slightly ajar.

We’ve passed the end of 2011, the time by which the University said the PTI’s doors would be fully closed in November 2010. But legislators have stuck their foot in the door and are slowly prying it back open with a new law that could give the University a chunk of the Traffic and Criminal Conviction Surcharge Fund.

But while the outcome of this legislation is pending, the University has found itself in a rather awkward situation. It can either follow through with its threat and ax the program or continue to pay for the institute while legislators pretend to look busy, searching for money.

It looks like Springfield has found its solution: a $25 fee leveled against those convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. This convict fee is hard to oppose, charging criminals for getting caught and using that money to train more police to catch yet more criminals. Only someone softer than “soft on crime” could oppose this. Except, perhaps, the University’s Board of Trustees.

The University still has to fund half of its costs under the current bill. Such a program has to be done willingly, with long-term interest in the results and payoffs of the PTI. The state obviously wants the Police Training Institute on its flagship campus. And it’s clear that Illinois is making the effort to fund it, bit by bit. But before this bill gets signed off by the governor, the University must be on board.

But in doing so, the University will have to recount its prior conviction of the PTI, and the findings of Stewarding Excellence, which will reverberate in the ears of other condemned programs as, “We said it wasn’t of our mission, but we really just meant we want more money.”

Ever since the Stewarding Excellence review of the institute announced its closure at the end of 2011, PTI’s impending closure has resulted in a number of downward glances and shuffling of its feet. This is in the simple fact that this is an academic program, operated by the University of Illinois. A program does not suddenly become part of the University’s “mission” when there’s money to pay for it, nor vice versa.

But this institute has been training officers since the 1950s, and similarly to the Institute of Aviation, no one had previously raised questions about its “mission.” So almost to a fault, bill proponents are continuing to grant the Board of Trustees discretion over the program and the choice over whether to accept their money.

Laughable, that the Board of Trustees would turn down a continuous source of income.