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University Police officers patrol campus alone

UP was spread especially thin the morning of Oct. 7 when 5,000 to 7,000 Bulls fans gathered around the Sun Dome to secure their places in line for tickets to the upcoming home football game against the University of Central Florida.

But UP’s main source of concern wasn’t the situation at the Sun Dome; it was the rest of the campus, which went un-patrolled.

“It took all of our officers off the street for five to six hours. We had four officers out. If we had two more, we could have handled it and have been able to patrol the campus,” said Captain and Operations Commander Robert Staehle.

Staehle has been with UP for 27 years, and one of his duties is to oversee the Patrol Division. With USF employing just 24 patrol officers and assigning four officers per shift, he said USF faces dangerous situations without more backup.

When UP sends out their four officers per shift on patrol, they are alone. He said even though violent crimes aren’t occurring on campus, potentially dangerous criminals may be on campus.

He said 60 percent of the arrests made by UP involve people not affiliated with USF, which he said is common for urban colleges. But USF has a disadvantage.

“Of that population, many are coming from high-risk neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s not that it’s unique, but low staffing levels makes it problematic. It doesn’t afford us the opportunity to be proactive.”

According to Staehle, just across the street from USF, Tampa Police patrols with two officers per car because the area has such high crime rates. Tampa Police Department Public Information Officer Corporal Jared Douds said their department adjusts the number of officers sent out based on current conditions.

“It’s based on what types of calls we get in the particular area. If we have a rash of burglaries or something in one area, then a supervisor might look to put two officers in that area, so they have backup,” Douds said.

UP supervisors tell their patrol officers not to travel far from their vehicles when they make a routine stop so that they can respond quickly to other calls. Staehle called the rule problematic because it tethers officers to their vehicles.

“If we’ve got four officers working and one makes an arrest, by the time that officer transports that arrestee to central booking and gets back, we’re down to three officers,” he said. “We have to make terrible choices at times like that.”

Because the campus has grown so much – by density, not perimeter – officers face challenges in responding quickly to calls when they have to navigate a crowded campus that experiences rush hour throughout the school day.

“If an officer is on the top of the parking garage, it could take them several minutes to get out of the garage safely. When someone is in grave danger, minutes can be life or death,” Staehle said.

Bicycles and motorcycles might be one solution to the problem. In fact, three officers from UP attended an International Police Mountain Biking Association meeting last week.

“We’ve already got officers trained for bikes; we have the bikes, we just don’t have the staff,” Staehle said. “They’re more about assisting other officers, since they can get to the scene fast.”

UP doesn’t utilize its bicycles or motorcycles because it can barely fill the quota of having four officers in cars per shift, Staehle said.

“We’d rather be creating history than writing it,” he said. “We create history by catching the criminals before they commit the crimes. We’d really like to be able to get back to the days of creating history.”

Christine Gibson can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or oraclegibson@gmail.com