Public Safety

Friendship forged decades ago leads to Iowa City law enforcement collaboration

University of Iowa public safety director Scott Beckner (left) and Iowa City Police Department Chief Jody Matherly are photographed at the intersection of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. The two have known each other since high school and, while both have followed separate paths in their careers, their long-running relationship has helped them work out creative solutions in their current positions. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
University of Iowa public safety director Scott Beckner (left) and Iowa City Police Department Chief Jody Matherly are photographed at the intersection of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. The two have known each other since high school and, while both have followed separate paths in their careers, their long-running relationship has helped them work out creative solutions in their current positions. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Today, Scott Beckner calls the shots at the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety as the department’s director.

Less than a mile away, Jody Matherly oversees operations at the Iowa City Police Department, where he has served as chief for the past year.

But a little more than 30 years ago, Beckner and Matherly were just a couple of young patrol officers on the Grand Blanc, Mich., police force. Matherly, who is a few years older than Beckner, was Beckner’s field training officer when he joined the force in August 1987.

“It was a great experience,” said Beckner, who attended the same high school as Matherly. “I’ve always respected Jody after that because some people are kind of tough on recruits. Jody was tough, but he was fair.”

Beckner said Matherly also taught him to treat everyone with respect, regardless of the situation. Matherly recalls Beckner as a fun-loving partner on duty.

“He brought a lot of fun into the job,” Matherly said. “I think we laughed almost every day. You’ve got to be serious, but you also have to have well-placed humor. He was just a great partner in the car.”

The partnership lasted only about six months before their careers took them in separate directions, but a friendship was forged that continued through the decades. They bought cabins on the same lake. Their wives are friends. And, when opportunities arose, they both urged each other to take the jobs that landed them in Iowa City. Beckner joined the university in July 2016, and Matherly was sworn in last January.

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“I remember when I was applying here, I called Jody and asked, ‘How’s Iowa?’ ” Beckner said. “He said great things about Iowa. ... And then I told him he needed to put in for Iowa City.”

Their friendship they’ve built over the years has led to numerous instances of collaboration between the two departments. Just months into Matherly’s tenure as police chief, Beckner helped arrange for the two departments to do defensive tactics training with the UI wrestling team.

“Once you do innovative things like that, your goals are endless,” Matherly said. “As long as you think them through and vet them, and Scott and I do that well together.”

In the past year, Beckner and Matherly finalized a plan to combine special response teams and created the SHOUT — Students Helping Out — program in which UI student “ambassadors” supervised by the Department of Public Safety patrol downtown, helping people who might be lost, intoxicated or in need of assistance. The two departments even hammered out an agreement that sees Iowa City officers staffing UI special events such as basketball games so the smaller UI police force doesn’t have to draft its officers to cover those events. Iowa City officers are paid by UI public safety, which in turn is reimbursed by the organization that requested the police service.

“Something like that would probably take five years to build up the relationship to be able to do that,” Beckner said.

These days, there’s no signs of slowing down. One initiative Beckner and Matherly are exploring is a combined evidence lab.

The men said the trust they have in each other has been key to their collaboration. Both said they expect and receive honest feedback from each other on proposals and a commitment to those initiatives when they’re put in place.

“If I say yes to him, I’m in it 100 percent,” Beckner said. “If he says yes to me, he’s in it 100 percent. You don’t normally get that.”

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Aside from cost savings that come with combining resources, Beckner and Matherly said their joint efforts mean better customer service for both jurisdictions. Pointing to an event such as last year’s Pedestrian Mall shooting, Matherly said it’s important that Iowa City residents, UI students and their parents all feel safe, regardless of whether they’re on or off campus.

“It really put us into a high level of alert for those following days,” Matherly said of the Ped Mall shooting. “Scott and I sat down together and (discussed) what’s best to one, make sure this doesn’t happen again, but also make the community feel safer.”

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said there have been times when law enforcement leaders in the county did not always see eye-to-eye and work together the way they do now.

“It’s a great time to be an agency head in Johnson County,” he said. “We’re always talking about new things and new ideas. Things are really good now.”

Last fall, during Matherly’s first UI football season as Iowa City police chief, he and Beckner went out on patrol together during a game. While Matherly admits they’re not “the front line enforcement guys” anymore, not much else has changed in 30 years.

“We stopped and talked to people,” he said. “I enjoyed doing it. It’s not easy to spend hours with somebody if you don’t get along. He makes it a lot of fun.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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