IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Department of Public Safety Director Scott Beckner, who sought to make campus law enforcement part of students’ educational experience, will retire later this year.
Beckner, 56, will leave after nearly 34 years in law enforcement, including nearly four as assistant vice president and director of public safety at UI. Beckner said his decision to retire came after conversations with his wife and other family members, including his brother, who also served in law enforcement.
Beckner and his wife will move to Florida in June, Beckner said.
He is the is the third Johnson County law enforcement leader who will leave this year. Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly announced earlier this month that he will retire, and Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek is not seeking re-election.
“I love working here,” Beckner said of UI. “It’s a great place. I’m going to help with the transition as much as I can ... This is definitely the pinnacle of my career.”
Plans for hiring a new director of public safety will be released later this spring.
Beckner joined the UI in July 2016. His law enforcement career includes 18 years with the Michigan State University Police Department in East Lansing and police chief positions at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga.
All told, Beckner spent nearly 30 years working in higher education.
Beckner said wherever he worked, there was some barrier between students and law enforcement. His goal was to make that barrier as thin as possible.
“I think we’re part of getting them educated,” he said. “It’s a little different than a city, county or state police department.”
During Beckner’s tenure, the Department of Public Safety worked with Information Technology Services to create an app that allowed students to request a ride through the NITE RIDE service.
He also created a student security officer program, employing about 100 students and fostering a community policing environment on campus.
Beckner and longtime friend Chief Matherly worked together to create the Students Helping Out program, also known as SHOUT, in which UI student “ambassadors,” supervised by the Department of Public Safety patrol downtown, helped people who might be lost, intoxicated or in need of assistance.
Beckner, who earns $203,898, also initiated a Student Practicum in Policing course taught by UI officers and other local law enforcement. He taught Criminal Law and Policy for the sociology department.
“Director Beckner has made it his mission to improve safety services across campus and begin building community with our students,” Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for finance and operations, said in a statement.
“He has listened to feedback from students, thought outside the box to develop solutions even during fiscally challenging years, and through the hard work of the team he led and partnerships with our neighboring municipal agencies, our campus is a safer and better place. We are grateful for his leadership.”
Beckner said the biggest challenge during his time with the university has been budget constraints. A year after his hire, the department went through an reorganization that eliminated three upper-management positions to allow the department to hire six more officers. The three former employees later sued the university and several administrators, including Beckner and Lehnertz. A jury trial in that case is scheduled for next year.
Beckner said he is proud of the programs created for students during his tenure, as well as his officers.
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“I’m proud of the officers we hired,” he said. “I’m proud of the officers we kept. They all bought into the program and helped this department succeed.”
While he likely will not play a role in finding his successor, Beckner said he has advice for whoever takes over in his role.
“Embrace the students and embrace their issues,” he said. “Take it as an opportunity to grow with the students.”
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