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UP reports decrease in crime rates

Major crime rates on the USF Tampa campus have dropped for the fourth consecutive year, with the number of reported crimes falling from 388 in 2008 to 314 in 2009 and the amount of arrests increasing by 24 percent in the same time frame.

According to the annual Uniform Crime Reporting to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued by University Police (UP), there has been a 19 percent decrease in major crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft since last year and a 45 percent decrease since 2005.

Furthermore, this decrease is not restricted to campus, said UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross.

“Crime rates throughout the area have also been declining in recent years,” Ross said. “We think that this is part of a general trend in the area, but also may be due to our proactive enforcement efforts and other initiatives that have been implemented within the past four years.”

Among those efforts are 20 security cameras, which were installed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in April in an area bounded by North 23rd Street and Fowler, Bearss and Nebraska avenues. The cameras, which can read a license plate from three blocks away, run 24 hours and have helped “lower the crime statistics in the surrounding neighborhood … concentrating on violent crime and drug sales,” said HCSO Major James Burton in a video on the department’s website.

Many of the on-campus efforts came into play in 2006, when UP director Thomas Longo assumed his position. One of his most successful initiatives is a bi-monthly DUI Checkpoint conducted on campus to deter students from drinking and driving, Ross said.

“These checkpoints make the USF Police more visible to the community,” Ross said. “Our high visibility may also be a deterrent to crime.”

Longo also began rotating positions in the Detective Section.

“These positions allow officers to spend two years in the Detective Section, becoming more familiar with conducting investigations,” she said. “At the conclusion of the two years, they return to patrol with all of the knowledge that they gained while working cases as detectives.”

Ross said the decrease in reported crimes has also led to a 52 percent increase in arrests since 2005 – partly with the help of vigilant students.

“We rely on USF students and the whole community to be extra eyes and ears,” she said. “We cannot keep this campus safe without the help of our community.”

Beginning July 1, SAFE Team, the Student Government-run escort service, will begin reporting to UP, she said. Ross said it has frequently reported suspicious behavior to UP that has resulted in arrests.

UP also introduced two new security systems this month – “Guardian 911″ and Smart 911” – that can track students’ cell phones as they traverse campus at night and provide additional personal information to police dispatchers in emergencies.

“Let’s say you have a late night class or you worked late in the Library and you are walking to your car,” Alana Ennis, assistant vice president for Public Safety, said of the Guardian 911 system. “You know it takes 10 minutes to walk from the Library to your car, so you call this 800 number that you are given, and you can set a timer on your mobile phone.”

When the 10 minutes have passed, a student will receive a text message that reminds them to turn off the timer. An automated call will follow, and if the student does not respond to the call, 911 dispatchers will then make a personal call to verify their safety.

If a student does not respond to that call, officials will search for them knowing their location.

GPS capabilities are not needed to determine a student’s location, just as long as they can receive text messaging, said Christopher Akin, associate director of Information Technology.

Emergency information that a student wishes to disclose upon registering, such as medical history and previous 911 calls, will also be accessible to dispatchers through the Smart 911 system.

In addition to ensuring personal safety, Ross said students should be wary of bicycle, laptop or small electronic theft – the most commonly reported crime on campus.

“Students should always be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior,” Ross said. “The USF Police Department is a primary answering point for 911. If students call 911, UP Dispatchers will answer their call. If students report suspicious behavior, a USF Police Officer will respond very quickly. A delay in reporting crime will delay our response.”