Bruce Benson said he will ask a lot of questions and listen carefully during his next several weeks at USF. Benson, listed as the interim assistant vice president of the Division of Public Safety on USF’s Web site, is acting as its director for the next year. He started Monday.
The creation of the division and Benson’s hiring came about after Hallcrest Security – a security consulting firm hired by USF amid problems with University Police staffing and collective bargaining – recommended that the University consolidate agencies that “directly support the Tampa campus community’s safety and security.” The new division combines UP, parking enforcement and other services, according to a January press release from the University.
Benson began his career as a police officer in Flint, Mich., and worked his way up the ranks to become deputy chief of police in Flint. He went on to become the chief of police at Michigan State University (MSU), where he stayed from 1986 until 2002.
After 16 years at Michigan State, Benson left the police department and became a full professor of criminal justice at MSU.
Benson hopes to bring some of his experience with community policing to USF’s Tampa campus.
“My past orientation has been along the lines of community policing,” he said. Benson describes community policing (CP) as entailing a healthy community involvement in police programs as well as the ability of officers to have their own territories or beats.
When asked whether UP had enough staff to take on CP, Benson said he needed to get better acquainted with specific details about UP.
“I don’t really know what the staff levels look like and what the optimum numbers will be when you combine police with other safety people,” he said.
Bensen confronted similar staffing problems at MSU.
“Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, and tighten your belt,” he said. “At MSU, I had no extra officers to begin our CP approach … that meant that other people had to carry a little bit more of a load for some time.”
USF spokesman Ken Gullette said the University was working to boost the ranks of UP. “The staffing levels and the retention has been one of the things that we’ve been trying to address in the bargaining,” he said. “We’ve been trying to address that.”
While Benson was chief of police at MSU, there were 62 sworn police officers, compared with just 40 at USF.
“What you need to look at is safety per student. The biggest unit here dealing with safety appears to be University Police,” he said. “But there are many other people on campus that do safety-related things.”
He also said that the University needs to take a look at the crimes being committed and consider how to reduce them.
Benson said he is not intimidated by controversies surrounding security at USF, including a recent impasse declared in USF/PBA negotiations.
“I’ve consulted and done training with municipal and university police departments all over the country,” he said. “I’ve found that there is no such thing as a public safety director position that does not involve controversy. People have a right to have their say in what they would like to see done.”
UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said UP was excited about the new division and Benson’s leadership.
“We (UP) view the hiring of a seasoned police professional for this leadership position to be a positive,” she said. “We look forward to working with him.”
Benson and his wife made their move to Florida permanent in 2006, where they had owned a vacation home since 1995. Until taking the job as public safety director, Benson was a visiting professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee.
He officially resigned as a visiting professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee on Dec. 31, 2007, but will maintain a relationship with the campus, working occasionally as an adjunct professor within the criminal justice master’s degree program.