New funds considered for campus police

Last month, the Florida Board of Governors heard from university police and counselors about ways to expand campus police funding for the state’s 12 public universities. 

Campus security activity has increased with all campus-related criminal activities in recent years, according to a statement to The Oracle from Jon Rodgers, director of academic and student affairs for the State University System. The campus-related criminal activity ranged from public disturbances to weapon offenses.  

While he said Tampa’s campus is as safe as ever, USF University Police (UP) Assistant Chief Chris Daniel said USF is starting to see a more specific type of crime.

“Traditionally the property crimes have been something that have played on campuses for years,” he said. “But as time goes on and our campus becomes more compressed with the living conditions (and) the student enrollment, we find that we are having more person crimes, conflict between roommates and conflict between boyfriend (and) girlfriend … we have not really had a problem with in the past.”

In a 2012 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 92 percent of campuses were using sworn officers and 75 percent of campuses were using armed officers.

“Obviously everybody in the university environment wants more if they can get it,” Daniel said. “Our role is to provide a safe community for people to study, work, have some recreation, and proper funding also allows us to take those measures to provide a very secure environment.”

According to a Tampa Tribune article, USF spends roughly $4 million a year for UP and public safety. USF’s Tampa campus has 50 sworn officers, 52 at full force and 16 civilian employees, which makes its officer-to-student ratio 1 to 834.  

“It’s quite clear that we provide a safe and secure learning environment at the University of South Florida. It’s been our No. 1 commitment since day one,” said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox to the Tribune. “If we can’t provide that kind of safety and security to our students, faculty and staff, everything else pales in comparison.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has a standard of two officers per 1,000 students, which breaks down to one officer per 500 students. The University of Florida has the largest university police force in the state with 89 sworn officers.

“I understand that it can be costly to hit that mark dead-on, but whatever we can do to minimize those variances would be helpful,” Daniel said. “Depending on the circumstances (and) the environment, each individual campus would have its own ratio that fit.”  

Rodgers said he cautioned against using the police-to-population ratios as a “basis for agency staffing decisions.” 

“(Decisions are based on) factors such as university mission, campus location, student clientele, additional off-site facilities,” he said. “Administrative enforcement expectations may increase or decrease the need for police officers.”

With USF reporting six sexual assault cases, seven domestic violence cases and two aggravated assaults in 2013, advocates for more funding are afraid the numbers may increase as more students enroll and the campus becomes a more compressed community. Extra funding to campus police would not only fund more officers, but also equip them with more resources.

“We would probably have to look at our internal operation and ensure we are being efficient, and we’re doing that anyways,” Daniel said. “There’s efficiency and there’s creating opportunity through funding. We would probably take some of those positions that we have sworn law enforcement in and supervisory response right now, put them back out on the streets and hire civilians to do a similar job inside the office.”

The amount of funding, where it will come from and when it will be given is still undecided. There is a little talk in the state Legislature and governor’s office of a new tax.

“It would allow us to provide greater and deeper service to the community,” Daniel said.  “We also understand the fiscal responsibilities the university is under and they have done well for it, the university has done well whenever they could to help resource us better and help us get to the point we need to be.”