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Ranks of UP lack diversity

A consulting firm hired to make a report on campus safety suggested University Police’s (UP) lack of racial diversity may affect the quality of its work – and that it’s being caused by the same factors which have driven potential police recruits from USF in the past.

Hallcrest Systems Inc., which published its 27-page report in December, attributes the lack of diversity to the University’s non-competitive compensation package and aggressive recruiting of minority officers in the Tampa Bay area.

“Diversity, particularly in the Academy, is highly valued. However, we compete for this same pool with the other agencies in our region, and UP’s current profile of compensation and jurisdiction is not the most competitive,” said Thomas Longo, UP chief.

Although UP is authorized to fill 53 positions, the force is a team of 40 sworn officers, seven of whom are minorities. Because there are only one black male, one black female, two Hispanic females, one Hispanic male, one Asian/Pacific Islander female and one Asian/Pacific Islander male, UP has raised concerns that its police force is becoming out of sync with its community.

Longo doesn’t think the lack of diversity affects the quality of service provided around campus; however, he does think UP could do better in terms of diversity and plans to do so.

“Naturally UP would like to reflect our community more closely, which means we should have more minority and female officers,” he said.

Lt. Meg Ross said UP’s efforts to hire more minorities comes on the heels of a nationwide trend in which sworn minority applicants are heavily recruited, thus difficult to obtain.

“Everyone wants a police force that will reflect the community they represent,” she said. “However, at the moment, minority applicants are in high demand and the forces that can afford to lure them are more reflective of the community in which they serve.”

One of the setbacks UP faced up until last week was the lack of competitive pay for officers compared to surrounding organizations. The base salary for officers with less than two years of experience was $35,000, whereas the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office pay beginning officers roughly $40,000.

After USF agreed to increase base pay, beginning officers’ salaries are now $38,500, a move Assistant Vice President Office of Public Safety Bruce Benson thinks will help the University in recruitment.

“$38,500 is a good starting salary, especially for beginning officers. It is a competitive salary, that will hopefully entice officers to work in a university environment,” he said.

Although the base salary is still lower than nearby agencies’, Benson said the opportunity to work in a university environment is unique and cannot be duplicated by surrounding agencies.

“Working in a university setting is interesting in that you are coming to work in a pleasant environment. Officers get the chance to engage with students who are intellectual and in the process of obtaining degrees,” he said.

In an effort to boost minority hiring at UP, Human Resources started to focus on minority recruitments and, since the report, has hired a Hispanic female officer. Because of the shortage in officers, recruits are able to bypass the three-month training academy and are hired with only basic training.

“We are very short staffed,” Ross said. “We don’t have the time to send our officers through three months of training, when we need them to be productive officers around campus.”

As UP continues its efforts to reach officer quotas, Benson said he hopes to incorporate some policies he used while chief of police at Michigan State University (MSU) in order to increase the ranks of minority police officers.

“Over time, I would like to entice people of different races and genders to USF, and that includes students on campus. At MSU, I hired many students right after graduation that were of several diversities, and I hope to continue that here.”

While the University continues to make efforts to recruit more officers and become more competitive with nearby agencies, Benson said his priorities are to build UP numbers, become more diverse and find the best officers available for the job.

“One of my priorities is to build a diverse group of professional police officers. I’ve found that as diversity increases, our officers’ views open up. They engage with each other and pick up aspects of their cultures and learn from and then take that out into the community,” he said. “Therefore, this is a career that has real meaning, where our officers are helping other people. It’s not just a job, and we want to promote that to potential recruits.”