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When USF and the Police Benevolent Association came to a tentative agreement on a contract that will raise the pay of University officers, it marked the first critical step in rebuilding a police department that had fallen below acceptable staffing levels.

Comparably low salaries have been the primary detriment to the University Police department, restricting its ability to recruit and retain quality officers. Other local law enforcement agencies were offering better salaries and benefits, and UP was never able to compete. Even when officers were hired, the turnover rate stayed high because of the lack of significant raises.

UP is funded for 53 officers, but because of better opportunities elsewhere there are only 40 on staff. This shortage has stretched the department thin and placed USF in precarious situations. At the beginning of the fall semester, a bicycle thief was able to commit repeated thefts because of the lack of manpower to effectively patrol all areas of the campus.

It seemed at first that USF was unwilling to consider the reality that UP was vying for the same employees as other local agencies. “We will never be on the same level as Tampa and Hillsborough. We will try to get closer,” USF spokesman Ken Gullette told the Oracle earlier this year.

The new offer from USF goes a long way in closing the gap that has kept UP understaffed.

New officers hired by UP will earn $38,000 under the new contract – a significant increase from the $35,041 base pay starting officers had been receiving. While not as high as the starting salaries for officers at Tampa Police Department, which pays $40,000, the department’s proposed pay scale at least allows USF to be competitive. The new salary is nearly equal to that of first-year deputies at the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office and is much higher than the salary Florida Highway Patrol pays its new officers in neighboring counties.

While the new contract does not provide as high a ceiling for salaries as competing agencies, bringing the base pay to a level approaching that of neighboring law enforcement agencies will likely improve USF’s ability to hire new officers and will provide current officers a reason to stay longer than they have in the past.

Stability is the key to a cohesive organization, and hopefully this contract will help stop the loss of vital University employees.