Audit finds laundry list of University of Iowa public safety shortcomings

New director praises report as 'blue print' to improvements

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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety is re-evaluating police patrols, reviewing job duties, updating billing and financial procedures, improving dispatch operations and addressing training inadequacies after an internal audit this summer highlighted shortcomings in 17 areas.

“Cash handling procedures are not documented, credit card receipts are not independently verified, documented credit card numbers are not properly redacted, checks are not properly secured during transport to the bank,” according to the audit.

The way the department handled cash was far from the only area with non-existent or out-of-date procedures.

Auditors also highlighted shortcomings in billing procedures for providing security at events like football games, calling them “not always accurate.”

A review of a sampling of events during the 2016 budget year found 15 discrepancies between invoices and the documented hours paid.

For example, auditors noted time spent by two officers securing a Hawkeye football game was not billed to the UI Athletics Department.

For each shortcoming, auditors listed suggestions like hiring a business administrator, bolstering training, promoting officers and updating technology.

Many of the suggestions could cost extra, and the UI’s responses acknowledged as much.

“Staff size decisions will be subject to budgetary restrictions,” according to one UI response.

Scott Beckner, the university’s new assistant vice president and public safety director, started on the job July 18 — one day before the audit was published. He succeeded Public Safety Director Chuck Green, who retired last year after 20 years at the helm, and two interim directors since then — David Visin and Lucy Wiederholt.

Wiederholt was appointed after a sheriff’s deputy accused Visin of interfering with an investigation involving the then-interim director’s stepson. UI public safety also came under fire in May when it turned away a student wanting to report a hate crime after learning the alleged assault was off campus.

That student’s report turned out to be false, but critics said UI police could have handled it better and officials vowed to make changes.

In an email Wednesday, Beckner said he appreciates that the university does internal audits and plans to use this one “as a blueprint to improve the department.”

In his short time here, Beckner said he has determined the department is made up of “dedicated individuals who want to provide a safe environment for all students, faculty and staff.”

“My goal is to add value to public safety and the University of Iowa, and this audit has already helped to expedite that process,” he said.

The department’s police division includes 45 certified officers as well as security personnel, investigators, dispatchers and emergency management, fire safety and records staff.

Among other findings:

The department doesn’t document procedures to manage its evidence room. Items are disposed of or returned to owners as deemed appropriate but some need to be held for years. “To manage this, a Post-it note is put on a copy of the evidence sheet that is stored in a binder,” according to the audit, which suggests “using electronic resources.”

The department bought two motorcycles for $26,208 apiece but they are underused as only one officer is trained to patrol with them. “Disbanding the program and selling the motorcycles has been proposed for the 2017 budget year,” the university said in a response.

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