Brian Ward is a busy guy.
He spent Friday night at Pine Knob Outdoor Theater playing the role of the prankster in “Lucy and Ruth’s Diner.” Other times, Ward moonlights as a personal finance analyst.
But that’s nothing compared to his day job.
Ward is a campus police officer, and he says he’s at Western for the long haul. Finding officers to stick around like Ward has been hard to come by
for the force.
“I enjoy being a police officer,” said Ward, who has been with the department for 13 years. “I’ve never awoke in the morning and dreaded going to work.”
Since he first set foot on the Hill in 2000, Chief Robert Deane has had one vision for his department – experienced officers patrolling the Hill. A veteran force, he said, would give Western optimal police coverage.
“What I’d like to do is get a department together and keep them together for five or six years,” he said.
But that vision has been easier said than done.
While he and many of his subordinates have tried to staff an experienced police force, better-paying jobs at bigger departments have proven a constant and often overpowering menace.
Capt. Eugene Hoofer said the department lost two officers this year. One of them, Sgt. Terry Scott, became a state arson investigator.
Campus police are now trying to fill the two vacancies left open by Scott and Officer Jared Rickard’s departures.
Better paying jobs
The situation is frustrating for Deane. Often, the officers he hopes will serve Western from their first day on the job to retirement leave because of one reason: money.
New Western officers start out making $21,420 a year and an additional $3,100 for maintaining their officer certification.
While strides have been made, the department still isn’t where Deane would like it to be. Western’s pay scale is low, compared even to its closest neighbor, the Bowling Green Police Department.
“The problem is we can’t offer them the money large departments can afford to pay,” he said.
Western is not alone.
At other state universities, like Eastern Kentucky, officers are leaving at an even higher rate for better paying jobs at bigger departments.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve lost six officers,” said Tom Lindquist, public safety director at Eastern.
He said with 18 campus officers and a nationally-recognized law enforcement program, Eastern is constantly replacing officers who leave for better jobs.
Similar to Western, pay is the biggest problem for the university, Lindquist said.
A common practice
While officers continually leaving for bigger jobs and better pay causes major headaches for the likes of Deane and other campus police officials, it is a reality they must deal with.
Larger departments will recruit from smaller departments and more times than not, they will attract a new officer. Deane said the practice is commonplace.
Recruiting from smaller departments is a financially logical move because bigger departments get an officer who is already trained and ready to hit the streets their first day on the job, Deane said.
But Officer Penny Bowles of the Bowling Green police, a larger department, said her department does not recruit officers from Western.
“We have officers who come here from other departments,” she said. “But we don’t go to other departments to . steal officers.”
Many times when officers leave campus police for another job, they take with them the 16 weeks of training at the state police academy to their new employer that Western paid for.
Fran Root, training branch manager of the Department of Criminal Justice Training Center in Richmond, said about 500 would-be police officers will go through training there this year. The program consists of 650 hours of course work.
It’s a difficult program, Root said. An average of four officers per class quit or fail before they complete training.
Officers who receive training in Richmond are paid by their employers during the 16 weeks of training. Their other expenses, including housing, are covered by the state.
“It’s very demanding, both physically and mentally,” said campus police officer Larry Dvorak, who completed the program last October.
Dvorak said he doesn’t plan to leave Western anytime soon.
Making some strides
Officer Ward and Sgt. Jody Burton welcome new recruits, such as Dvorak, with open arms. Deane said the department is trying to decrease turnover despite the setbacks.
Deane said strides include increasing pay and highlighting the benefits of working at Western, including six free credit hours a semester and half-priced tuition for relatives.
“We can’t afford to be the training ground for larger departments,” Deane said.
Ward said his plan is to retire from Western in about six years and begin wearing his personal finance analyst hat full-time.
Right now, Ward is taking advantage of a benefit offered by the university.
His son, B.J., is a junior at Western. Ward said B.J. gets half-priced tuition as a relative of a university employee.
“That comes in handy,” Ward said.
Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]