A $1-million price tag accompanied USF’s yearlong contract renewal with private security firm AlliedBarton on Jan. 2. In light of budget cuts, UP fiscal issues and a sexual harassment scandal involving AlliedBarton at another university, students and police officers have questioned the expenditure, though the administration stands behind the deal.
“I think it’s a waste of money – they just ride around in golf carts,” said Paul Anton, a computer engineering major.
Tom Kane, dean of Housing and Residential Education, feels that AlliedBarton is an asset to campus safety, however.
“Other than seeing them all over the place, I have not personally had any contact with them,” he said. “I believe they are really visible to the residents and visitors to the housing portion of campus. I am glad to have the extra eyes looking out for the students.”
There are 40 AlliedBarton security officers on campus. Three security officers – known as “rovers” – are assigned to the residence hall areas during nighttime hours, said Lt. Christopher Daniel of University Police (UP), who acts as a liaison between UP and AlliedBarton.
AlliedBarton is a private company, and its employees – referred to by the company as Security Officers – are employees of AlliedBarton, not USF. The firm made headlines in November 2007, when an AlliedBarton guard was charged with sexual harassment at the University of Pennsylvania. On Nov. 13, an AlliedBarton security officer indecently exposed himself to a female student after walking her to her residence hall.
While there have been no allegations of sexual harassment at USF by AlliedBarton employees, students reported witnessing unprofessional behavior on the part of the guards.
Sam Ciullo, a freshman music composition major, said she has seen AlliedBarton guards stop by the gazebo and talk with students for up to 30 minutes while smoking cigarettes. History major Josh Finch, a junior, said he witnessed similar actions.
“They ride around on their golf carts, talk on their cell phones and smoke cigarettes,” Finch said.
Ryan Lynge, a sophomore sociology major, was sitting outside Holly B with friends around 1 a.m. recently when an AlliedBarton security officer walked up to them and began talking with them.
“He said he was over at Magnolia (residence hall), making one of his security rounds and there was a really cute girl and she was really drunk and she was hanging all over him,” said Lynge. “He was definitely on duty. He said he was on till 6 a.m.”
Mitchell Crawford, account manager for AlliedBarton at USF, joined the company in January after retiring from the Maryland State Police. Crawford described his job as directing the security officers, troubleshooting and making sure their schedules are properly completed.
Crawford is aware of the reservations that some students have about their presence.
“Some people have love for the University Police and they think we’re taking their jobs,” he said.
Security officer qualificationsThe security officers – who are required to have a high school diploma and two years of experience in law enforcement, security or the military – are recruited by an AlliedBarton recruiter in Tampa and then sent to Crawford for an interview.
The security officers must possess a Florida-issued Class D security license before joining the ranks. The training that security officers receive includes a daylong orientation and two to three days of on-the-job training, Crawford said.
The officers are not supposed to become involved in any kind of physical altercations, Crawford said. They are there to “observe” and notify UP of any problems. In fact, the officers cannot hold a person in custody until the police arrive to the scene. If an event of a serious nature were to occur, Crawford said, such as a robbery, the security officers could intervene and would be covered under the Good Samaritan Act. Their principal duty, Crawford said, is to “be present.”
Crawford compared the presence of AlliedBarton security officers on campus to the presence of an unoccupied police car in a neighborhood. He said they make people “think twice” about committing a crime.
Nicki Mehler, a sophomore chemistry and math major, credits the guards with foiling the Fall 2007 rash of bike thefts.
“My boyfriend had two bikes stolen before they came to campus, but none since they arrived.” Her boyfriend lives in Magnolia, and she noted seeing an AlliedBarton guard posted outside the building each time she visited her boyfriend.
Officers air frustrationsThe Police Benevolence Association (PBA) represents UP in contract negotiations with the University. PBA representative Crpl. Stephanie Crookston expressed frustration with USF and AlliedBarton’s costly contract.
“It would have been great if they gave that money to us,” she said. “I’m frustrated with the fact that they (USF) have $1 million to go toward security but no money for the police.”
One of the reasons for the University and PBA’s contract negotiations impasse was an unhonored public records request for the AlliedBarton contract. Crookston said that the PBA cancelled the last negotiation meeting – which the University cited as the cause for the impasse – because they had not received a copy of the AlliedBarton contract as requested. Crookston said that the St. Petersburg Times obtained the contract and shared its contents with UP. The PBA’s request, she said, is still outstanding.
However, University spokesman Ken Gullette was unaware of it.
“I don’t think I ever got their request,” said Gullette.
Gullette said that the funds used to pay for the AlliedBarton contract are “non-recurring funds.”
“You don’t fund police with non-recurring funds,” he said, “because you want to know the money is going to be there next year.” Gullette said that he, and others on campus, likes the guards. He called them “extra eyes and ears for the police department” and said they are “not intended to do battle,” but “their job is to keep their mind on safety.”
New director, new directionDirector of Public Safety Bruce Benson said his main task during his yearlong appointment at USF will be the integration of UP with AlliedBarton and other security entities on campus. The use of a private, independently contracted security firm is new for Benson. At Michigan State University, where Benson served as Chief of Police, students served as security officers.
“We had a couple hundred student employees and we put them through an intense training program,” Benson said. The students were outfitted with blazers, equipped with walkie-talkies and sent out to patrol the campus.
Though the use of independently contracted security is new for Benson, he is in favor of the model.
“It seems to me that it is a good expenditure of money,” Benson said. His principle task will be to bring all safety-related work together, meaning UP and the security guards. He said that at MSU, the units were already combined into a cohesive public safety division, but “here, the job is going to be putting all that together.”