The University Police Department has been awarded a grant worth more than a quarter million dollars but which would require its forces – already stretched thin – to expand their patrol area to cover one of the most unsafe regions in the county.
When the grant was written a year ago, UP was confident it would have the resources it needed to patrol the extra area. Now, after losing three officers in the last two months to resignation, officials within the agency aren’t so sure.
“There’s a concern among us, since we can barely maintain patrol over the campus,” Police Benevolence Association (PBA) representative Stephanie Crookston said. “How are we supposed to expand to off-campus areas? If we had the manpower to do that, it would be great, but we don’t have the manpower. It’s a major safety issue; it’s going to spread us thinner.”
The grant, awarded by the Hillsborough County Bureau of Justice (HCBJ), would be used to pay the salaries of four UP officers and funds the purchase of two patrol cars for the agency, but includes no language concerning
At this point, the HCBJ is holding the agreement, waiting for UP Lieutenant Chris Daniel, who originally applied for the grant, to sign the papers.
The language of the grant expands UP’s jurisdiction to cover an area including Fletcher Avenue north to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, between 46th Street west to 42nd Street, including Eagles Point Apartments, John Knox Village and those complexes transecting the area along Skipper Road.
HCBJ oversees the selection and approval process, while monies come from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
It’s a coordinated effort between Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, HCBJ spokeswoman Darlene Lewis said. All the money will go to UP, and it’s more of a memorandum of understanding with the other two agencies. The officers will work independently, but they will also work alongside HCSO and TPD to create a more responsive law enforcement environment.
Though the theory behind the grant is to provide funds to expand UP’s patrol force, officials within the agency point out that their problem is not funding positions but retention and recruitment.
It doesn’t address the retention issue anyway, Crookston said.
UP employs 39 sworn officers, with a 40th officer joining Oct. 1, leaving nine open positions, but has lost three patrol officers since August.
Officer Maria Zale left in August to work for the University Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, formerly Student Judicial Services.
A new hire, Officer Jennifer Carter, left during the training period.
Christopher Migliore, the 2006 UP Officer of the Year, left the force Sept. 17 to work with another local agency.
Migliore said that part of the problem with retention is that UP lacks the defined step-raise structure that many of the surrounding agencies, such as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police Department, have in place.
This means an officer hired by UP is guaranteed only the minimum raises for all State employees as defined by the Legislature.
New officers could earn considerably more in a shorter period of time at another local agency, while enjoying other benefits such as a take-home car. Perks like these drew Migliore to another local agency.
“Knowing that I’ll be getting a 3 (percent) to 4 percent raise every year and having a police car in front of my house (prompted my decision),”
The patrol division is not the only branch of UP affected by the understaffing. According to UP spokeswoman Meg Ross, the Dispatch and Communications Center is severely understaffed. Ideally, according to Ross, there should be a supervisor and six communications officer positions in that center. Currently, there are just four communications officers on staff.
Ross said that those vacant positions are continuously advertised, and she expects to begin interviewing
There has been some progress. According to Ross, one patrol officer has joined the force and another is in training.
However, Migliore said he personally knows two to three more officers who, lured by the benefits offered by larger forces, may leave in the coming months.
“I don’t have anything against the University Police,” Migliore said. “Unfortunately, they’re in the position where the University is not taking care of them.”
Christine Gibson can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or oraclegibson