The Northwestern Center for Public Safety may fly under the radar of the University’s undergraduate community. But for decades, the program has trained the next class of law enforcement leaders for police departments in Evanston and across the country.
Founded as the Traffic Safety Institute by an Evanston Police Department lieutenant in 1936, the center initially focused on traffic accident investigation and safety. Now, NUCPS primarily teaches public safety management and leadership, offering an intensive ten-week course called the Police Command and Staff School. According to NUCPS director Shelly Camden, the course recruits police officers who already have some supervisory experience and are now looking to expand their skills to move up the ranks.
“We hope they come to us and leave with a skill set that they know how to run a law enforcement organization,” Camden said.
About 600 to 700 officers nationwide graduate from NUCPS each year, according to Camden. Year-round, the Center offers its SPSC course online and on-site in departments across the country.
EPD Deputy Chief Melissa Sacluti, a 2017 SPSC graduate, said she learned the inner workings of a police department through the program. Officers from different agencies across the country take the course together, she said, making it a good forum to discuss similar issues they face.
“There’s an advantage to…being able to hear that there may be slightly different challenges, but overall it’s the same and how are we, nationally, how are we dealing with those challenges,” said Sacluti.
The SPSC operates much like a traditional school, with officers attending classes every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and carrying out assessment missions. The program includes seminars on strategic planning, resource allocation, statistics, employee relations, officer welfare, and racial and social justice.
Sacluti now serves as an instructor for the program alongside his work at EPD. She said she found the course “career changing”.
“Your perspective completely changes,” Sacluti said. “When you are able to step back and see everything as a system.”
At the end of the 10 weeks, students write a ‘staff study’ in which they identify a problem in their home department and suggest a solution. EPD Sgt. Jason Kohl, a graduate of SPSC last year, said he has developed an updated training plan for newly promoted supervisors to help ease their transitions.
Kohl said the department had previously implemented suggestions from the staff studies and was now considering implementing its plan. For example, he said a previous review of SPSC staff prompted EPD to add a compliance officer, responsible for ensuring the department’s compliance with new state mandates and training updates.
“We were able to centralize training, and that person reported directly to the chief of police, so approvals could come quickly, funding, things like that,” Kohl said. “It certainly benefited the whole department.”
EPD Cmdr. Jodie Hart, who also graduated from SPSC last year, said many police departments nationwide require an SPSC degree for officers applying for senior management positions.
EPD also prefers officers to graduate from SPSC before being eligible for certain leadership positions, Hart said. In some cases, officers attend SPSC directly after promotion. During Hart’s time at the school, he was promoted from sergeant to major.
Camden said there has been a recent increase in the number of EPD enrollees at SPSC. The department has also experimented high turnover rate over the past year.
The EPD has had three police chiefs in the past year, and a new police chief is expected to be appointed in the coming weeks. Evanston hosted a town hall Wednesday which solicited feedback from residents on the priorities they were seeking for a new leader. The city plans to host two more town halls on May 24 to gather feedback from Black and Latino residents.
Sacluti, who is involved in sending EPD officers to the SPSC, estimated that the EPD had sent at least a dozen officers to the SPC since 2017. She said the school had played a role in the recent “succession plan” of the EPD.
“Although it hasn’t been announced, we need a succession plan in place,” Sacluti said. “People who are moving up the ladder now are going to keep moving up as people leave and we are losing people to retirements and everything else. It is therefore important that all follow this training.
EPD values SPSC’s programming, Sacluti said, because it allows officers to be “exposed to greater things outside of our police department.” Sacluti said CSPC is committed to giving officers the tools to better serve not only their department, but more importantly, their communities.
“You can feel from the start of this class, you can feel that all the staff at the Center for Public Safety — they want us to be successful,” Sacluti said. “They know that everything they do or say has a direct impact on what we bring back to our police departments, and how that directly impacts the communities we serve.”
E-mail: [email protected]
— Evanston residents give their opinion to town hall as search for new police chief continues
— The Evanston Police Department saw a spike in quits in 2021. Here’s what the future looks like
— Former police chief Richard Eddington will be the city’s new acting police chief