The recent acts of violence on college campuses are a reminder of the threat faced by students nationwide. They are also a reminder of the importance of campus safety and the difficulty faced by security forces in ensuring the safety of such large communities of students, faculty and staff.
As USF is a school operating on an open campus in a large city, it is fortunate that the only security issues debated at the University have been related to an underpaid and understaffed police force and a questionable contract to hire unarmed security guards.
The most frightening aspect of the violent acts that have taken place is that they have been unavoidable for the students attending universities. Students can make an effort to avoid dark streets and isolated areas on their own, but attending classes leaves students protected only by whatever level of security is enforced by the administrations of their schools.
While the ideas discussed in an article in today’s Oracle show an effort to improve campus safety, there are very obvious issues that need to be resolved.
Students who are signed up for MoBull Plus may be unable to receive emergency information, as cell phone reception is unreliable in buildings that serve as hubs of student activity, such as Cooper Hall. That same building is composed of windowless classes, most with only one door, which are not suitable for students in an emergency situation.
Bruce Benson, USF’s director of public safety, and others who have spoken about the capabilities of UP in an emergency situation, claim that UP can rely on local law enforcement to provide necessary assistance. While each local department would undoubtedly do whatever it could, UP’s knowledge of the campus is unparalleled and, during acts of violence like the tragedies that have taken place recently, a rapid response is critical. There is also concern that a police department with only five officers on duty at any given moment may not be able to quickly stop a violent threat.
What may be the most unusual demand of this new security thinking is the push to fulfill another administrative position instead of beefing up UP. One of Benson’s “personal priorities” is to create a position titled Emergency Operations Manager.
USF is spending money on security, but it may not be spending wisely. Benson earns $120,000 per year and the AlliedBarton contract is costing USF just over $1 million. The new position Benson seeks to fill is described as “high level,” which will likely translate into a high price tag. USF is also seeking state funds to build a new security building.
Meanwhile, UP’s Chief Thomas Longo has been elected vice president of the Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association, and is the first chief from a university to fulfill such a position. Longo was also a finalist for a national campus safety award this year.
USF needs to strengthen and streamline the competent and talented police force already in place instead of continuing to add ‘experts’ and additional steps to deal with in an emergency situation.