Iowa City, University of Iowa police to combine special response teams

Collaboration will lead to a 'better, efficient, coordinated response,' chief says

Members of the Iowa City Police Department’s Special Response Team return to their vehicle after Lorenzo Jones was arrested in connection with a Chicago homicide in Iowa City in December 2014. The Iowa City special response team is merging with the team from the University of Iowa. (Gazette file photo)
Members of the Iowa City Police Department’s Special Response Team return to their vehicle after Lorenzo Jones was arrested in connection with a Chicago homicide in Iowa City in December 2014. The Iowa City special response team is merging with the team from the University of Iowa. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City and University of Iowa police departments are combining their special response teams.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday approved a new 28E agreement between the two agencies, allowing them to train and respond to high-risk situations together, both on campus and throughout the city. The partnership is the latest collaboration between Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly and UI Public Safety Director Scott Beckner, longtime friends from their early days in Michigan. Both men joined their respective departments in the last year and have pursued different avenues to combine resources.

“Chief Beckner and I, since I arrived here, have talked about ways he and I could combine services,” Matherly said Wednesday. “My experience with special response teams is combined teams are better in several different ways.”

Matherly said when two or more agencies train and work together, the people they serve benefit from a “better, efficient, coordinated response.” Matherly previously served as chief of the Altoona Police Department, which was part of the seven-agency Suburban Emergency Response Team, made up of departments in the Des Moines area.

And combing resources means each department has access to a larger team, Beckner said. He noted that when a special response team is called out, all of the members are not always available or geographically close.

“It made sense to combine them so we get 24 members and they get 24 members instead of 16 (with Iowa City) and eight (with UI),” he said. “It benefits both departments.”

In his memo to the city council, Matherly noted Iowa City’s special response team trains to respond to hostage situations, barricaded subjects, high risk warrant service and apprehensions and personal protection. Iowa City’s team is called out two to three times annually, on average. The UI’s team has not been called out in the last few years.

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The agreement means each member of the team — whether they are UI or Iowa City officers — will be called out with the special response team regardless of where the call for service is taking place. Each department will be responsible for paying its own officers and there is no financial component to the agreement. The university is donating a rapid deployment van designed to quickly transport team members and equipment to a scene. Iowa City also has a rapid deployment van.

The team trains together at least once a month, Matherly said.

Such collaboration within Johnson County is not uncommon. Iowa City and UI both have members on the Johnson County Drug Task Force and the metro bomb squad. Matherly said that same approach could one day be applied to a countywide tactical team.

“I haven’t had any other conversations with other agencies,” he said. “It’s not to say we couldn’t continue to grow. I think in the world of special response teams, having a multiagency coordinated response can be a good thing.”

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

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