That the USF Police Department (UP) has been bleeding officers for the past several years is a simple function of supply and demand: Base pay for UP is $35,041 – nearly $4,000 below its closest competitor, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), which offers a first-year recruit $39,115. Weakening the appeal to UP, moreover, is that the HCSO, the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Tampa Police Department are actively recruiting, and managed to draw away three officers this past spring.
Perhaps USF’s need for its police officers isn’t as cut and dry as economics.
Yes, crime is down on campus, but FBI statistics still list USF as one of the 25 most dangerous universities in terms of violent crime.
And yes, UP’s 40 officers generally do an excellent job protecting students, faculty and staff, but 40 officers just aren’t enough. The officer-to-student ratio at USF – one officer for every 868 students – is the lowest of similarly sized schools in the Florida State University System.
If USF was nestled in a sleepy, low-crime area, then perhaps such lapses could be excused. The campus, however, is in the middle of Suitcase City, a gang-riddled neighborhood named for its history of drug trafficking. This gang crime – along with other unsavory activity – unsurprisingly spills over from the neighborhood onto campus.
In February 2007, for example, a routine traffic stop on campus involved the perpetrators of an armed robbery that had just taken place at Avalon Heights. In an e-mail from UP Chief Thomas Longo to Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall, the suspects were “Bloods” at King High School and carried a gun, a bat, masks and gloves.
Around the same time, four USF students were the victims of another armed robbery near campus. The suspect’s vehicle was also spotted on campus.
Though USF can trust area crime to infiltrate its campus, it cannot trust area law enforcement to catch all criminals, compounding the need for more officers. On Dec. 29, 2006, UP arrested a man hiding a loaded pistol under his shirt around 2 a.m.
According to a Jan. 2 e-mail from Longo to Meningall, the man evaded area police earlier that evening. Upon arrest the man “congratulated the officers for finding his gun, as he said he had been contacted by officers of another local police department that night and they didn’t notice it.”
Though the arrest was conducted without incident, the lack of police on duty that night – and the resulting potential for danger – is nevertheless sobering. On Dec. 29, only four officers were on duty – “half of the eight” Longo says are required to “adequately patrol a campus of USF’s size,” as detailed in Monday’s Oracle. Moreover, Longo does not control the budget which dictates how many officers he can hire.
To top it off, one of the four UP officers on duty that night was still learning the ropes as a trainee.