New University of Iowa public safety director emphasizes relationship building
Scott Beckner brings 30 years of law enforcement experience to the job
IOWA CITY — If they can forgive him on gamedays for being a Michigan State Spartan, University of Iowa students and staff should find new UI public safety director Scott Beckner has a lot in store for them.
With 30 years of law enforcement experience under his belt — including 18 years climbing the ladder at Michigan State University before leading smaller police departments at Shepherd University and Georgia College and State University — Beckner, 52, brings to campus a wide range of knowledge. The common thread throughout his career is a passion for working with students and being a part of the educational process, he said.
“I think the best kept secret in policing is university policing,” Beckner said. “It just keeps you young.”
Beckner, who most recently served as director of public safety and chief of police at Georgia College and State University, was named in June as UI public safety director. He replaces former director Chuck Green, who retired in January after 29 years with the university, including 20 years as public safety director.
Barely a month after his arrival, Beckner has already launched a number of initiatives aimed at connecting with students and faculty. Rod Lehnertz, UI senior vice president of finance and operations, said that’s exactly what he and the search committee he appointed were looking for in finding Green’s replacement.
“I was, and we were, looking for someone who could address most effectively the notion of community service, community policing service to our university community,” Lenhertz said.
Beckner said he plans to bring some “small town, small college programs” to the University of Iowa and see how they fit. Among them is an officer liaison program through which teams of officers reach out to student groups and fraternity and sorority houses to foster relationships.
“I think that will break down some barriers so we can have some good communication,” Beckner said.
UI officers also have the chance to build relationships on the field or court. Beckner intends to have teams of officers challenge student teams in intramural athletics.
“I think our officers are excited about doing programs like that,” he said. “They don’t want barriers.”
Lehnertz applauded Beckner’s early efforts during his first few weeks on campus.
“It’s a great way to break barriers, make friends and see a UI officer in a different light as a real person and a part of the community.”
Beckner said he also intends to hire more students to serve as security officers around campus. He is also developing the details of a program he hopes helps address sexual assaults on campus. Beckner said that initiative should be finalized this fall.
Beckner and Lehnertz emphasized the importance of reaching out to area law enforcement agencies to reaffirm and strengthen those existing partnerships. They have been meeting with leadership from area law enforcement agencies and Beckner said he has already chatted with his fellow police chiefs, as well as former director Green and former Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine.
“They’ve given as much guidance as I’ve asked for,” Beckner said. “I get the feeling they want me to succeed, which is nice.”
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he reached out to Beckner when he was appointed and has since met with him.
“Just making sure he knows the door is always open, the communication is always open to whatever he wants to chat about,” Pulkrabek said. “It’s just a matter of helping him learn the area and learn the lay of the land.”
Aside from his plans for new campus programs, Beckner said he hopes to continue building a department of officers that want to help students succeed.
“We need to build relationships,” he said. “That’s my core value.”