Unarmed security officers could have posts near USF’s residence halls and begin patrolling campus on foot as early as next week, University officials announced Friday.
Officials also said the University Police Department will be taken out of Student Affairs and rolled into a new Public Safety Division with several other departments.
The two initiatives were announced at a press conference held 10 days after student government leaders staged a sit-in in the courtyard of the Administration building to protest Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall’s handling of
campus safety and criticize President Judy Genshaft for failing to take the concerns of students seriously enough. The protest received coverage from local news outlets contacted by student body President Garin Flowers and Vice President Faran Abbasi, who led more than 70 students in the sit-in.
“I think the actions we took opened their eyes, and they’ve taken the necessary steps to make a change,” Flowers said.
University spokesman Ken Gullette said the two initiatives were in line with the recommendations from a security consultant hired by Meningall to assess campus safety. Though the report from the consultant, Hallcrest Systems Inc., is due in December, Gullette said Genshaft didn’t want to wait.
“I believe students and parents will be reassured when they see these officers patrolling and providing security,” Genshaft said.
The announcements also came as administrative negotiators are embroiled in contract negotiations with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). During their collective bargaining meeting Oct. 22, Sgt. Mike Klingebiel criticized the decision to hire security officers as a diversion of money that could go to pay UP officers.
“Think about the types of crimes that are going to occur,” Klingebiel said. “They are going to be the ones that you need a cop there to do the arresting. What are these guys going to do? They’re going to call the patrolling UP officers. “
At the press conference, Police Chief Thomas Longo acknowledged the negative reaction from some UP officers, but supported the move to hire the security
“There will probably always be mixed reaction to something like this,” Longo said. “Having security guards is something (police officers) have articulated to me in the past that they’ve wanted … there will be a uniformed presence; (students) will see them in their posts and they’ll see them in the residence halls. I think it will help materially.”
Public Safety Division follows model of other universities
The decision to create a separate division for public safety puts USF in the company of universities like Temple, Pennsylvania, Georgia Tech and others that revamped their models for organizing
university police and other security departments in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in April.
University Police, parking enforcement, emergency management, emergency operations and other departments would be consolidated into one division in the new model, and a new administrative position would be created for its oversight.
Until a search committee can identify a candidate, the division will fall under the interim supervision of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci.
Until Friday, Meningall had responsibility for University Police.
Associate VP of Student Affairs James Dragna, whose contract with the university ended Oct. 25, alleged in an e-mail sent Oct. 9 to University heads, including Genshaft, that Meningall misallocated $1.3 million in funds, physically intimidated employees and made racist and sexist remarks.
“This decision has been in the works for a period of time, and does not reflect negatively on Dr. Meningall’s leadership,” Gullette said.
UP still smaller, underfunded compared to state counterparts
The University, which has been accepting bids from security firms for more than a month, decided to hire AlliedBarton Security Services, a firm which provides guards for 90 colleges, including the University of Central Florida and Harvard.
He said the exact number of officers and the size of the contract with AlliedBarton was still under negotiation, but that it would be on the order of $200,000, and would be paid for with non-recurring funds pooled from money available in other departments.
Carlucci and Genshaft stressed that the money going toward the security firm would not cut into recurring funds used to pay UP officers, and would be cut in the case of a shortfall in the state budget.
“Recurring funds are the holy grail,” Longo said. “But cash can be found when you try hard enough and move around and look for funds.”
Longo has said the low pay of UP officers compared to competing law enforcement agencies makes retention and recruitment of officers difficult, leading to high turnover and a “revolving door” within University Police.
USF has one officer for every 940 students.
UCF has about 60 officers, or one for every 730 students.
USF has funded 49 officer positions, but eight of those remain unfilled.
The starting pay annually for USF officers is now $35,041, about $4,000 less than other local agencies. Additionally, UP officers don’t get some of the perks offered by other agencies, such as a take-home patrol car, worth about $4,000 a year.
AlliedBarton will likely provide some of the same services it offers to other universities, which include patrolling campus on foot, escorting students and faculty to their cars in the evening and setting up office posts near residence halls, said Larry Rubin, a spokesman for the company.
Director of Residence Services Tom Kane said offices in Holly K and the Andros Center will be created as posts for the new security guards.
Rubin said officers staffed on campuses were there to take care of the mundane police duties, so university police officers could focus on policing.
Keenan Arodak, a senior leader in SG Senate, said he’d feel much safer with armed police officers patrolling the campus at night.
“What reason do the security officers have to put themselves on the line for a student,” Arodak said. “If I’m being mugged, it doesn’t warm my heart to know there’s someone on foot making $8 an hour, without a gun or any power to make an arrest.”
Alyxandra O’Brien, a sophomore who lives in Holly E, said more UP officers would be ideal, but the presence of anyone in a uniform would make her feel safer.
“I don’t walk around at night alone because I don’t feel that safe,” O’Brien said. “But I would feel safer knowing that there’d be somebody always walking around.”
Danielle Coolidge, a sophomore who also lives in Holly E, said more police officers would reassure her.
“I’d feel a lot safer with an actual police officer as opposed to a rent-a-cop, mall-like security person,” Coolidge said.
Anna Peters, Christine Gibson and Ashley Davidson contributed to this report.