UP working to ensure students feel safe on campus

After the killing of former USF student Ronald Stem on Thursday, University Police and Residence Services pulled together to reassess campus safety.

On Friday, UP Chief Pat Johnson requested assistance from the Tampa Police Department for help with the investigation and to make residents feel safer.

“We’ve done some overlaps with some of our shifts,” Johnson said. “So that at periods of time when we may have had five officers out here we’ve now got 10 – our intent is to keep them there until the community is satisfied.”

While the investigation into Stem’s murder is ongoing, many UP officers are also working overtime to ensure people feel safe around campus and at Magnolia Apartments.

“There is an increased presence on the campus,” UP spokesman Sgt. Michael Klingebiel said. “We are trying to get these officers when they are not on specific calls to be out in areas where they would come into more contact with the students, staff and faculty and make themselves available for any question.”

Johnson has also asked for patrol assistance from the Tampa Police Department and told the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to notify UP of any breaks in the investigation.

UP officers are also conducting investigations with a large portion of Magnolia residents.

On Friday, Magnolia residents met with UP officers, members of residence services, the counseling center and other University entities to discuss Thursday’s incident.

At the meeting, UP learned two nearby call boxes didn’t work. Subsequently, USF’s Physical Plant was sent out to remedy the problem.

“Nobody knew this until somebody mentioned it at the group meeting,” Johnson said. “The next day we had Physical Plant doing something about it.”

Residence Services Director Tom Kane also said there were no complaints about two malfunctioning entrances at Magnolia until the meeting.

“We lock all the exterior doors of all the residence halls and then a student goes and breaks them open,” Kane said. “Then they get mad at us for it because we go right behind them and secure them. We can’t know everything. We are depending on students to tell us when there is a problem and if things need to be done.”

Kane said maintenance workers replaced the locks Monday.

“We had a lot of people out there looking at those doors,” Kane said. “We found two doors that if you pulled them hard enough you could pop them open.”

Also, a former Magnolia resident assistant told the Oracle on Sunday that students had also been concerned with lighting.

“I can recall a number of requests made by multiple RAs to Residence Services and the University Police for more lighting,” he said.

But Kane said lighting around the area was sufficient.

“People have said there could have been better lighting, but if you look at the video footage of the suspects running away at the time of the murder, it was pretty well lit,” Kane said.

Both Klingebiel and Kane said they had not received requests for lighting improvements.

“What do you do to make everything absolutely safe?” Kane said. “Even if you have everything well lit, that doesn’t guarantee you safety. I think sometimes students think that nothing can happen to them because they’re on a college campus, and we work real hard trying to get people to understand they’ve got to be careful when they go out.”

In the future, Kane said students need to communicate with Residence Services when they have a discrepancy.

“We put locks on all the doors in the apartments and into the bedrooms, and then the students don’t lock them. We try, but until something really terrible like this happens, people don’t think about it.”

Of the 47 total officers UP is allowed to hire, there are a total of 42 filled positions. Johnson said a few applicants were going through examinations and others are still going through the interviewing process.

Additionally, Johnson said the University has made requests to the legislature for two additional positions for sworn officers and two for senior security guards.

“There also has been a proposal that has been brought forward to increase the number of officers on the force by nine over the next three years,” Johnson said. “So a lot is being done by the University to continually increase.”

Klingebiel said authorities are going to do whatever it takes to make students feel secure.

“Bottom line is we’re going to be out there as long as it takes to have the community feel that it is and continues to be a safe educational environment,” Klingebiel said.