The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City police seeks new officers in hopes to reach full staffing levels

ICPD is recruiting new officers to reach full staffing levels, offering a starting wage of $58,905 for entry-level officers and $92,684 for certified officers.
Avi Lapchick
An Iowa City police car is seen on March 2, 2023.

The Iowa City Police Department is actively seeking new applicants to reach full staffing levels.

Officials say the department experienced staffing shortages due to COVID-19 and a national decline in law enforcement applicants. To address this, the department implemented a more flexible hiring process to remove barriers for candidates.

ICPD Chief of Police Dustin Liston told The Daily Iowan that the call for applicants aims to fill existing budgeted positions, not expand the size of the force.

“We have to constantly be hiring just to get to our authorized level,” Liston said.

According to its website, the ICPD is authorized to employ 84 sworn and around 26 non-sworn personnel. Liston said the department’s authorization increased by one person in fiscal 2024 to accommodate a second sexual assault investigator.

According to an April 19 press release, ICPD offers an annual wage of $58,905 for entry-level officers and up to $92,684 for certified officers. Additionally, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy-certified officers also qualify for a $5,000 signing bonus.

Liston said the department currently has 82 sworn officers.

“The number that we currently have is about the most that we’ve had in several years. But we have planned retirements pending,” he said. “We’ve become much more flexible and much more willing to work with our applicants, and that has helped us a great deal.”

To attract a wider applicant pool, Liston outlined changes the department has made. These include accepting applications year-round, rather than limiting them to specific windows and expanding residency requirements.

Additionally, Liston emphasized the department’s focus on diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and life experiences. He said the department appreciates applicants with a college degree, but it is not mandatory.

“People who usually do well are people who have some type of customer service experience,” Liston said. “Because that’s what a police officer does is mainly dealing with people and customer service.”

The Iowa City City Council voted to increase the police budget by $460,000 in the next fiscal year.

Councilor Laura Bergus, who voted in opposition to the 2025 budget, proposed an amendment during an April 16 council meeting calling for a shift in funds from police to other public safety services. Bergus proposed a similar amendment last year.

“I proposed allocating funding toward other ways of preventing harm and addressing conflict that occurs in our community,” Bergus told The Daily Iowan.

Bergus said increased funding for services like Mobile Crisis Response, a mental health dispatch team within CommUnity Crisis Services, would be more beneficial to the community than an increase to ICPD’s budget.

Additionally, Bergus believes more funding could be allocated to long-term and holistic preventative efforts.

“We also can go further upstream to try to prevent what leads to people calling the police in the first place,” Bergus said. “Those solutions would be everything from training individuals to de-escalate, bystander intervention, addressing conflicts that happen in school settings.”

Liston said the recent budget increase is crucial to accommodate rising officer compensation costs, noting that ICPD officers have union-negotiated contracts guaranteeing annual percentage wage increases.

“The vast majority of our budget is strictly wages and benefits,” Liston said.

Budget records indicate that personnel accounts for 84 percent of police expenditures in fiscal 2024.

Liston said he agrees with Bergus’ suggested approaches but emphasized that the department needs sufficient funding to successfully implement them.

“The police department is close partners with many of those non-law enforcement organizations,” Liston said.

The 2021 ICPD annual report states that the department partnered with Shelter House, a local nonprofit that provides housing and supportive services to individuals experiencing homelessness, as part of the 2020 preliminary plan to accelerate community policing.

This partnership aimed to assist officers encountering homeless individuals in connecting them with necessary services.

Additionally, the report states that ICPD collaborated with CommUnity Crisis Services and Foundation 2 Crisis Services to hire Joachim Seelos as a law enforcement mental health liaison to better meet the needs of community members with mental health concerns. Seelos was hired in July 2021 and fully embedded into the department in December 2021, the report states.

“I don’t think reducing our budget would assist us in keeping the community safe,” Liston said. “That being said, I’m all for continued support for those other agencies.”

City Councilor Shawn Harmsen voted in favor of the budget increase.

In an email to the DI, Harmsen wrote that ICPD operates at a lower per capita number of sworn officers compared to several other cities in Iowa. Echoing Liston’s claims about low staffing after COVID-19, Harmsen wrote that the department relied heavily on mandatory overtime.

“Officers should, and do, expect that because of their public safety role,” Harmsen wrote. “But if you do that too much you end up with officers in the field who are more prone to burnout — which has implications for the way they do their jobs and the service our community gets.”

Harmsen wrote that low police staffing forces the department to prioritize patrol duty, leaving specialty positions that support community policing efforts unfilled.

To better understand the department’s needs, Harmsen wrote that he participated in several police ride-alongs during the summer of 2023.

“What I can say from my observations is that I saw nothing that led me to believe that those patrol levels were too high,” Harmsen wrote. “On the contrary, I witnessed calls that required a response from over 50 percent of the officers on duty, leaving only an officer or two to respond to emergencies in the rest of Iowa City.”

Liston said he anticipates hiring more officers will positively impact the department’s capability to serve the community.

“The calls for service that we’re experiencing in Iowa City aren’t going down,” Liston said. “So if we have fewer officers answering calls, they don’t have as much time to spend with individuals that they would if we were up to full staffing.”

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About the Contributor
Avi Lapchick
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.