ICPD, UIPD sees success maintaining consistent number of officers amid national shortage

While consistent staffing has been a struggle for law enforcement around the U.S., the Iowa City Police Department has been able to maintain a steady number of officers.


Alex Snyder

An Iowa City Police car is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.

Jack Moore, News Reporter

While police departments across the country have experienced employee shortages over the last three years, the Iowa City Police Department has maintained a consistent number of officers.

Survey data from the Police Executive Research Forum shows the national police staffing shortage is a combination of resignations, retirements, and a decrease in new officers being hired. In 2021, survey data showed officer resignations were 42.7 percent higher than in 2019.

Despite national trends, both the Iowa City Police Department and the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety have maintained a consistent number of staff members.

Iowa City public safety information officer Lee Hermiston wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the police department had a total of 79 officers and hired seven in 2022.

Iowa City Police Chief Dustin Liston, who was hired in 2021, said the department is continuing to hire new officers. He attributes a significant portion of the department’s retention success to the fact it is always accepting applications, giving out bonuses, and being supported by the Iowa City community.

“You could apply today, you could apply tomorrow, it doesn’t matter,” Liston said. “What will happen is when we’re getting ready to hire, we’ll set a cutoff date for that hiring period.”

Most departments have an application period and will not accept any more applicants after that period has ended. Liston said the Iowa City Police offer flexibility regarding when people take the state-required written and physical tests.

“We try to remove every barrier we could like only having one date in which we were able to test,” Liston said. “We would give multiple options and work with people — we have to do that. Otherwise, the numbers we’re getting just aren’t enough to make the process worthwhile.”

Additionally, the Iowa City Police Department has established incentives including a $5,000 bonus to certified officers who have gone through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. The police department can offer this bonus because the department does not have to send applicants to Des Moines and pay for their training.

“I think one of the best ways we’re competitive is just the community itself and the department,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good reputation as a good department, and we’re big enough to have opportunity.”

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The UI Department of Public Safety has had similar success in maintaining consistent officer staffing. Hayley Bruce, the UI Department of Public Safety’s assistant director for communication and external relations, said the department has continued maintaining staff through marketing.

“We have been more intentional about our marketing and communication strategy when it comes to demonstrating why the UI Police Department is not just a great place to work, but a unique law enforcement opportunity,” she said.

Bruce said police officers who work at the UI Department of Public Safety are able to both be involved with the community and have specialization opportunities. She said there is more competition in larger departments for specialized roles, such as the K9 units.

Word of mouth and current employees help public safety recruit quality candidates as well, according to Bruce.

“Many area agencies get a peek at what it’s like to work here during football season and winter sports because we often bring them in to assist with some of our operations … and learn a little bit more about what we’re about,” Bruce said.

The UI Department of Public Safety can also hire students for certain positions, she said. Some of the roles the department offers students include helping at athletic events, providing building security, and operating the Nite Ride service.

Bruce said the opportunities offered to students by the UI Department of Public Safety give students the chance to make connections and gain experience.

“We like to think it’s a really unique opportunity for students to get some great hands-on experience, and we have had some students go on to work in law and enforcement and the FBI,” she said. “This is just a good opportunity for them to make some connections.”