ASU Police Department battles with uncertain effects of budget cuts

As state school funding suffers major cuts, the ASU Police Department is making strategies on a tight budget to maximize the police force and ensure the safety of students.

Understaffed and already on a tight budget, the ASU Police Department is bracing itself for state budget cuts to come in the next year.

The state Legislature cut university funding by $99 million for the 2016 fiscal year, and ASU is already working on strategies to work with the reduction in funds.

ASU Chief of Police Michael Thompson said the police department was told the funding reductions should not affect the money allocated to campus security, but he added that they are still waiting to see “how everything turns out” as far as the budget is concerned.

ASUPD is on a tight budget as it is, and the school has struggled with criticism in the past for being understaffed in its security department for a school of its size.

“It’s always tight,” Thompson said. “We’re efficient with our money, and we spend it wisely, but it all has to do with budgeting.”

Thompson said while ASUPD may be understaffed, it has also been misrepresented by the media.

Common policy for college campus security typically involves having one security officer for every 1,000 students, Thompson said, and ASU has a large population of online students who are in no need of ASU police protection.

ASU is working on expanding its police force, as well as making an effort to retain the officers already employed.

“We hired 15 new police officers this year,” Thompson said. “We are looking at different salary strategies to see what would be the best way to retain some (of the current) employees.”

These strategies will be key in maintaining the size of ASU’s police force because it lost employees in the past.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a horrible problem, but we do have some attrition," he said. "We have some people transferring to different agencies, but not more than normal."

Thompson said losing officers was not always due to issues of salary but often a result of their desire to seize different opportunities.

Police Aid Richard Bailey also said ASUPD has suffered with issues regarding the size of its police force.

“We’ve had a surge for a period of time where we had to fill slots because we just didn’t have enough manpower," Bailey said. "We’ve been undermanned for years. We’ve increased our number of students in ASU tremendously, but they haven’t increased the police department to match it. That’s a problem. There will be days when we only have three officers to take care of this campus here in Tempe.”

Bailey said officers leave for different reasons, but a primary reason is that police departments in cities like Chandler, Tempe and Peoria are able to offer them better paying positions.

“Our officers don’t make as much money as any of the cities surrounding us,” Bailey said. “Because of the rollbacks in periods of financial setbacks, we had to let people go.”

Despite difficulties with funding, Bailey said he has complete faith in Thompson’s management.

“If he can get the funding to do what he wants to do, he could develop this police force, which handles all four campuses, into a force that we would be proud of,” Bailey said. “(He) is doing everything he can to correct the problems in the workforce. He’s a very smart man and he’s going to do a great job for ASUPD.”

Increasing the size of its staff is not the only method for preserving the safety of ASU’s students the police department has implemented.

Recently, ASU launched the Livesafe mobile app, which allows students to be in direct contact with the police force, as well as utilize tools like SafeWalk, which allows friends or family to monitor each other’s step-by-step progress when walking alone.

However, students like civil engineering senior Ashley Archambault are still concerned about the size of ASU’s police force and hopeful that it will continue to expand.

“If officers are being recruited to other places that are paying higher, we need to be allocating more money to that,” Archambault said. “It’s such a big campus. As a woman, I would feel safer knowing there was more personnel.”

Reach the reporter at icastil3@asu.edu or follow @isabella_m_cast on Twitter.

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