USF adding security guards

The private, unarmed guards will focus on residence halls and other busy areas.

Published October 27, 2007

TAMPA - The University of South Florida will pay private, unarmed security officers to bolster campus safety around residence halls and other high-traffic areas of the main campus, administrators announced Friday.

They are negotiating a one-year contract with AlliedBarton Security Services, a national firm that works for 90 U.S. colleges, including Harvard and the University of Central Florida. USF chief financial officer Carl Carlucci said Allied guards will be on campus as soon as next week.

He estimates the first-year of the contract will cost USF about $200,000.

USF officials also hope to improve campus security by establishing a new public safety division, whose yet-to-be-hired leader will oversee everything from the police force to parking enforcement and safety education programs. Carlucci will lead the division until USF finds a permanent director.

"The entire university community will feel reassured when they see this extra layer of security," president Judy Genshaft said.

Genshaft's announcement comes less than two weeks after 50-plus students staged a sit-in to demand more resources for the USF police department, but administrators have been considering private security officers since the mass fatal shooting at Virginia Tech early this year.

After the Virginia Tech incident, Gov. Charlie Crist formed a task force of education and law enforcement leaders to study universities' security shortfalls and needed improvements. The task force found Florida colleges come up dangerously short in the number of police officers and mental health counselors on campus.

Jennifer Meningall, head of student affairs, also enlisted a consultant to study USF's safety programs and compare it to successful models at other colleges. The private security guards and safety division are among the recommendations to emerge, said USF spokesman Ken Gullette.

Student body vice president Garin Flowers, who helped organize last week's student protest, is pleased with the decision to hire Allied Barton but still wants USF's police force to grow.

Student government attorney general J. Stephen Kowski called the Allied contract "insufficient."

"It's more eyes on campus, but what is their ability to do anything about a serious crime? Nothing," he said. "It's a Band-Aid."

USF's police department is among the thinnest in the state, thanks to low pay and high turnover. Police Chief Thomas Longo has implored top administrators to dedicate more money for recruiting and retaining officers.

The department is negotiating a new contract for its officers, but USF's latest offer prompted some dissatisfied officers to walk out of a recent meeting.

USF's police budget includes money for 53 officer positions. Yet 12 positions remain vacant because the department cannot offer competitive pay or benefits, Longo says. The starting pay for USF officers is $35,041, about $4,000 less than other local agencies.

USF has one officer for every 939 students. UCF, by comparison, has about 60 officers -- one for every 731 students. The standard for city departments is one officer for every 500 residents.

Genshaft and Carlucci stressed that the use of Allied guards doesn't diminish their dedication to the police department and current negotiations. Genshaft said she recently assigned a human resources employee to focus on recruiting potential new officers.

Longo said the security guards will provide relief to his officers because they can help "with the more mundane stuff, like locking and unlocking buildings."

"They will be extra eyes and ears," Longo said.

USF administrators aren't sure yet how many Allied guards will be on campus, but Carlucci has identified six spots, mostly in residence halls, where Allied guards will patrol.

Carlucci said the money to pay Allied will come from money USF has saved by not filling salaried positions.

Allied was among nine companies to bid for the USF job. Allied provides security for 3,300 clients including financial institutions, chemical plants, shopping centers, neighborhoods and colleges.

Carlucci said the company's track record with large, urban universities like UCF and the University of Pennsylvania makes it an ideal fit for USF.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.