University Heights Police and the Community

Recent debates in the community concerning the proposed Marriott and budget questions have put a focus on the police department. None of the questions raised are minor or insignificant. How a city should allocate its resources, if it is worth maintaining a police force, and how to integrate commercial businesses are fundamental issues facing a small town trying to maintain its city-hood and culture. The following are my own opinions as Chief of Police and do not represent the City or the City Council. My intention is merely to make residents aware of the value of the University Heights Police Department. 

University Heights is a small city surrounded by a larger urban area that faces unique challenges to a town of its size. For seven days a year University Heights is flooded with thousands of tailgating fans. While this is a fun time of year, crime and medical emergencies are common. Moreover, Melrose Avenue is a main traffic thoroughfare to the hospital, stadium, and downtown Iowa City. Thus, UHPD is not without its own challenges.

Without a police department, University Heights would likely contract with another police department in the area. While neighboring agencies are excellent, I believe University Heights residents would not receive the level of attention to which they have become accustomed. Furthermore, removing the police department would also take some of the community’s unique character with it. Many residents of University Heights speak fondly of the small-town community atmosphere. Without a local police service, residents won’t know every officer by name or see them daily. Larger departments likely won’t have resources for the same level of parking, traffic, and game-day enforcement that residents currently enjoy. University Heights officers have the time to put into community policing. We know you and you know us. I can’t count the times I have given a resident a ride back from the hospital or helped fix a leaking water heater. This isn’t to suggest other agencies don’t perform community policing, but they have a higher call volume and must dedicate their resources where they are needed most.

While UHPD is debated, I encourage you to remember:

We are the only city department in University Heights with a full-time staff and do far more than law enforcement. For example, we help with plumbing emergencies, remove sick and injured animals, help carry groceries, pick up trash, perform vacation house checks, hold numerous community events, work in the elementary school, and more.

UHPD has become vastly more professional in the last year, with improved policies, outreach, a new website, body-worn cameras, and training. Granted, it would be far cheaper to have a police department with less well-equipped and trained officers. However, such a choice would come with its own costs.

The power of deterrence. In University Heights, an officer is nearby and available. It is hard to go a day without seeing an officer on foot, bicycle, or patrol car in the neighborhood. It is difficult to quantify the effectiveness of UHPD in deterring crime and maintaining community safety. However, the City has incredibly low crime rates and rarely sees a motor vehicle accident. It is hard to imagine such an active and visible police department is not responsible.

The decision to maintain a police department or to contract with another agency for services will never be mine to make. It is the choice of the residents and City Council. However, I encourage you to reach out to me with questions or concerns. We strive to be open and welcoming to the community. Drop by, give us a call, or schedule a ride-along. 

Kris Lyon #622
Chief of Police