The Board of Governors (BOG) put in a request to the Florida Legislature for $14 million over the next two years to increase the number of police officers at the 12 public Florida universities.
USF currently has 56 sworn positions. According to University Police Chief Chris Daniel, the additional funds would allow for around 20 new hires.
In 2008, a committee of 11 Florida police chiefs including Thomas Longo, then USF police chief, identified main issues throughout the state university system to be addressed by the BOG. The committee identified the student-to-officer ratio as one of the main issues.
“We find ourselves in a position, with the legislative changes over the years, where we have legislative authority a thousand feet off campus,” Daniel said. “That expanded community further impacts our resources because within those thousand feet typically is a student or someone university affiliated.
“We do have responsibility in those areas, and that does provide a greater impact on our resources. He and the other chiefs at that time felt the need to look at staffing.”
The committee recommended following the International Association of Chiefs of Police ideal ratio of two officers per 1,000 students. While recognizing that this may be a challenge to achieve, the committee stated the minimum ratio should be one officer for every 600 students.
“That’s a fantastic approach to it and yet we find our service community exceeds enrolled students,” Daniel said. “We have staff, faculty, other vendors come on campus with (the hospitals). We find that our service population is greater than the 42-43,000 students USF has enrolled and we have to service those people.”
USF currently has a ratio of 750-to-1, according to Daniel. With the new suggested budget, UP would reach the range recommended by the committee back in 2008. He said with a service population, UP would be closer to a 1,000-to-1 ratio.
Of the just over $14 million requested, $1,869,803 would come to USF Tampa and USF St. Petersburg. Additionally, USF Sarasota-Manatee, which shares a police force with New College, would receive $634,114.
An understaffed university police force is far from just a USF problem. The budget also requests $3,128,261 for UCF, which currently has a student-to-officer ratio of 869-to-1.
“It’s hard to say how many officers would be added with this budget,” said Courtney Gilmartin UCF Public Information Officer. “We have to consider salary, but also cruisers and equipment.”
Florida Polytechnic University (FPU) would gain three officers under the proposed budget increase of $600,134, according to Crystal Lauderdale, director of marketing and communications for FPU. Currently, FPU has a student-to-officer ratio of 164-to-1, but Lauderdale expects that to increase to 212-to-1 with the university’s fourth class.
The BOG also requested $14 million for improvements to the mental health services provided on university campuses. Daniel said these two initiatives are connected.
“We take that extra time,” he said. We engage other university community partners like (Student Concern Assistance Team), the counseling center, students’ rights and responsibilities. We have partnerships all around that we use to help deal with the criminal justice issue, but at the same time help that person get back to a quality of life that makes them productive in the university environment.”
When it comes to filling positions, Daniel said the process tends to be lengthy.
“We have to have officers who understand the free speech issues that go on out here and some of the different dynamics of people challenging their rights,” Daniel said. “Because this is an academic environment, people want to learn. Debates occur. If you don’t understand those dynamics, it can become a very confusing and uncomfortable environment for someone.”
Daniel said it’s not uncommon for budget requests to the legislature to not be filled or only be partially filled, but that wouldn’t keep UP from continuing to do its job.
“Short of receiving additional funding, it’s a matter of balance,” Provost Ralph Wilcox said at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting. “We can’t meet all of those pressing needs out of our current based budget. We are doing what we are able to do.”
Daniel’s goals for the force include being more visible on campus, providing more crime prevention and education on campus.
“To us, visibility and accessibility of our officers is where we succeed,” Daniel said. “Visibility is a great deterrent. When somebody comes out here with ill intent, sees an officer, most likely they’ll go another direction or find somewhere else to be. If we can make our officers visible and present in all impactful areas of campus, crime hopefully moves somewhere else.”