Tucked away behind the Auxiliary Services building on North Maple Drive is the headquarters for the USF Police Department, a fully accredited and operational law enforcement agency dedicated to ensuring the safety of all on campus. Though some students will never come into contact with an officer or may rarely see one, USFPD operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on foot and by patrol car.
Regular turnover has pared down the number of officers, sergeants and corporals – which, ideally, should be around 70 – to a still-functional and reasonably strong 39. Nevertheless, the relatively young police force relishes in being able to provide a high level of personalized service for USF students.
Shifts at USFPD run 12 hours, with the night shift running from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. All shifts begin with a briefing of recent criminal activity by a sergeant to his squad – which numbered three on a recent particular evening – but, ideally, should number four or five. Pictures of “persons of interest” are distributed and the short briefing is wrapped up.
Officer Nick Marckese begins his evenings by running a thorough check of his patrol vehicle, his “office on wheels.”
“Once I’m out on the road, I rarely, if ever, come back to the station; I don’t need to,” he said. “This vehicle is like my own little cubicle. I can perform most of my duties in here: processing an arrest, running license plate checks, writing reports.”
Rounding out the attributes of a standard patrol car is a back seat area mostly composed of plastic.
“Sometimes when we are transporting a DUI suspect they cannot control their bodily functions,” Marckese explained. “In other cases, a suspect will just be defiant and unruly and will purposefully soil themselves and the patrol car. The plastic facilitates in cleanup. It’s also not very comfortable.”
Marckese, a 1998 USF graduate, joined USFPD in 2004 after teaching fourth grade for a few years; then he moved on to be a project manager for a construction company.
“All throughout my life I’ve had jobs of a service nature,” he said. “I’ve helped run summer camps growing up; I became a teacher; now, I’m a police officer. As a teacher, like a police officer, I got to see the best and the worst in people, and 90% of the time, the best I saw was coming from the kids; the worst, often, was the parents.”
Because of his previous affiliation with USF, Marckese was fully sponsored by University Police throughout his training, something he is appreciative of and holds in high regard when contemplating his future with UP.
Marckese – like many other officers – is at what he calls “the decision-making time,” around three years of service, in which officers routinely make the jump to surrounding law enforcement agencies that offer increased benefits such as higher salary, a better retirement plan and a take-home car.
When asked if he is contemplating leaving the department, Marckese said he is torn over the matter.
“Absolutely, and I still am (contemplating leaving),” he said. “The police department has been really good to me and I owe them a lot. I have a vested interest in the University and really do have a deep caring for it. However, I do have a family to support.”
As his shift progressed, Marckese was quick to point out that summer is generally a slow time for the department. Since the potential for action rarely presents itself to the officers at this time, they have to take a proactive approach to seek out problems that are occurring.
“It is incumbent upon us to try and seek out people and things that just seem to be out of place,” Marckese said.
In one such instance, Marckese and a fellow officer worked together to track down speeders on 46th Street, just north of the campus, and produced the first traffic stop of the night.
“She was going 13 miles per hour over the speed limit and was upfront about talking on her cell phone while she was driving,” said Marckese. “She had all of her paperwork in order, so I decided to give her a written warning. We can use our discretion in these matters. We understand the financial burden that a traffic ticket can bring, so sometimes we opt to take on a more educational role in advising the driver, rather than ticketing them.
Shortly afterward, Marckese came upon a stalled vehicle at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs and Holly Drive. The driver had run out of gas, and Marckese took it upon himself to single-handedly push the vehicle out of the intersection and onto Holly. A slightly winded Marckese returned to his cruiser. “He had a kid in the back seat. He didn’t need to be in that intersection,” Marckese said.
Marckese ranks his involvement in the murder investigation of Ronald Stem on the USF campus nearly two years ago as his most exciting moment as a USF police officer. He said that he was fortunate to be able to execute a search warrant on one of the suspects and is proud of the fact that UP was able to solve the crime fairly quickly.
“As far as the most interesting situations I have been in, those would have to be the run-ins I have with non-affiliate people, especially from University Community Hospital. These are people that have some mental issues. Although I completely sympathize with these people, some of the things they say and do can be interesting, to say the least,” Marckese said.
A relatively uneventful night will not dishearten Marckese.
“Unfortunately, it is a part of human nature to have conflicts, to have people who will get into trouble. USF is like a small town, and when it is filled, there will be problems to deal with,” he said, “Our job is to continually move, so if people don’t really see us, it’s not because of a lack of presence. The people at this university can rest assured that there is a police force here that is caring and is absolutely dedicated to their safety.”