Campus police chief search ongoing

Tommy Sullivan

In July, WKU released a report on the WKU Police Department that called for reorganization, renewed relationships with other local police agencies and improved working conditions and communication for officers and employees.

The consultant who created the report, Leadership Strategies Group, recommended WKUPD work more closely with Bowling Green Police Department, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office or the Kentucky State Police for investigations of major campus crimes, such as A and B felonies and “certain sex crimes,” until WKU officers receive proper training.

Other recommendations included the use of body cameras by each WKUPD officer, reassessment of WKU’s access control operation, which maintains lock systems across campus, elimination of WKUPD’s special response team in favor of other local agencies’ teams, increased transparency within WKUPD, especially related to spending, vacations and odd shifts.

Patrol Capt. Mitchell Walker, who has 26 years of experience in law enforcement, took over as the department’s interim chief on Aug. 12 after former WKUPD chief Robert Deane’s retirement. The report said that local law enforcement leaders perceived the WKU police chief as an “absentee chief.” The search for a permanent chief is underway.

Brian Kuster, WKU’s vice president for student affairs, commissioned the report, as WKUPD falls under his division. He approached the consultant in January after becoming “aware of issues in the department,” according to a statement.

“Most of the items that you see here are really more administrative in nature,” Kuster said in an interview with the WKU College Heights Herald in July. “At no time did the consultant think that anyone was in danger. That’s important to know. We will look at each recommendation and work with the current troops to decide what direction we go from here and to keep them involved in that process.”

The report is based on interviews with each WKUPD employee during April and May, as well as local law enforcement leadership and students. The assessment showed “considerably low” morale among officers and multiple references by interviewees to the “toxic” culture of WKUPD. The mean score for morale in the department was a 4.2 on a scale from 1-8, according to the report.

In the report, two locksmiths employed by WKU said they were “overworked” and “treated badly.” One said he hadn’t had a vacation in three years. Because of this, they said they would like to be moved back with the carpenters.

One locksmith gave the example of when his son was very ill and needed to be taken to Nashville. He was told, “Your son is not our damn problem.”

“The morale of the department is very important to me so we are going to be focusing on that,” Kuster said to Herald reporter John Reecer in July.

Several individuals in the report had a concern that the department’s organizational chart was too top-heavy and they have an issue understanding why two assistant chiefs are needed for such a small department.

“We believed that we can move more people to the patrol functions and take more of the administrative levels out and put more people on the street,” Kuster said on the issue. “There is a lot of people on top of the organization and we believe that we can move some of those people to their patrol divisions.”

The summer brought pay increases to officers, who now earn a salary closer to peers who work for other agencies.

“As part of the university budget, back in the spring the campus was able to allocate an additional $80,000 to help increase the pay of all certified officers,” Kuster said in July. “Between that and some savings we found within the current police budget, we were able to give the police an additional $5,000 increase this year from last year.”

The report also recommended policy guidance for sending officers to away football games.

“Whenever the football team travels, two officers travel with them and in all cases the department was not being totally reimbursed by the athletic department which is already one of the things we have addressed with the athletic department,” Kuster said in July. “We want to make sure everyone has that opportunity because a lot of officers view it as a kind of a perk. It’s nice to be able to go to an away game and be involved.”

“I know from the interactions I have had with all of the officers, dispatchers and other staff within the department, that we can work through these issues and come out a stronger organization,” Kuster said in July.

There has been no word yet on when a new chief appointment can be expected.

Reporter Tommy Sullivan can be reached at (270) 745-6288 and [email protected].