USF President Judy Genshaft has said campus safety is one of her top priorities.

Vice President for Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall has claimed cuts in state budget allowances for colleges, which have put other issues at USF on the back burner, won’t keep administrators from addressing the problems with officer recruitment and retention with the University’s police force.

The University had a chance to walk the walk Thursday – to treat campus security as a priority – in the latest round of contract negotiations with University Police. Unfortunately, the University came up lame.

The new pay package proposed by the University’s bargaining team Thursday addressed only half the troubles that have kept UP from beefing up its ranks.

The University’s proposal bumped up salaries from $35,041 to $38,500 for officers with less than two years experience, and boosted the salaries of those with two to five years of experience by $500 to $39,000. It also gave officers a one-year bonus of $2,500.

The proposal addressed one of the problems faced by UP – retention – and for that the University deserves some credit. But the administration completely ignored UP’s problems recruiting new officers by keeping starting salaries for new hires at the same meager level of $35,041, well below the rates offered by the local city and county law enforcement organizations that compete with UP for new hires.

USF now has 39 officers. That puts them at two-thirds of the University of Central Florida’s police force, with just over 60 officers, and less than half that of UF’s, with more than 90 officers. That’s too small, especially when you consider that UP must patrol areas bordering campus like Pizzo Elementary and USF’s various clinics, and that those 39 officers also include police administrators who can’t patrol the street. The level of officers is so low that only four can be staffed for night patrols.

Any comprehensive approach to the problem must provide incentives for new officers to join UP’s ranks.

Perhaps the most befuddling part of this was the response of lead negotiator Sandy Lovins when UP’s representative, Stephanie Crookston, questioned the failure of the tendered offer to address retention problems.

Lovins replied that the University would better market UP with a new video to entice recruits and an emphasis on recruiting at new job fairs.

Perhaps the University should apply the same strategy to recruiting new research faculty too – pay them less than competing universities but come up with a jazzy new video about the virtues of working at USF.

It’s unlikely such a strategy will work in either case.

If the University administrators are serious about bolstering the ranks of UP officers, they must offer a proposal that raises the base salary for new hires. Talk is cheap, after all.