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Report finds USF in need of more cops

The findings echo complaints voiced by officers and the union.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007


TAMPA -- The University of South Florida police department suffers from "immediate and growing" manpower problems that are exacerbated by its "non-competitive compensation package."

The force is "understaffed" and hard-pressed to respond to "special events or critical incidents," concludes a national security consultant, in a 27-page report completed this month.

The findings of Hallcrest Systems Inc. echo many of the complaints voiced by police union leaders and officers who are wrangling with USF officials over a new contract.

"It's very insightful, and we're hopeful it will be implemented," police spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said of the recommendations.

USF administrators paid Hallcrest $13,000 for the assessment, said university spokesman Ken Gullette.

The goal was to get an "objective look" at USF's security needs, in light of the controversial contract negotiations, Gullette said.

"During times like police contract negotiations, sometimes emotion comes into it," Gullette said. "So we wanted an independent view."

USF has just one armed officer for every 950-plus students enrolled at the Tampa campus. The University of Florida, by comparison, has one officer for every 564 students.

USF's police budget includes money for 53 officer positions, but recently 10 or more of the positions have often remained unfilled.

Hallcrest's report comes as universities across the country, shaken by the Virginia Tech massacre earlier this year, re-examine their campus security resources and shortfalls.

USF officials enlisted Hallcrest's services in October. The company has spent the weeks since interviewing staff, students, faculty and police, surveying the campus and reviewing security plans and campus crime statistics.

The conclusion: The police department is not adequately staffed to handle the potential risks USF faces, given USF's growing student population and its proximity to dangerous, transient neighborhoods.

"The university is completely open to the surrounding neighborhoods, some of which have significant violent crime rates and illegal drug activity," the report notes.

"Criminals from the surrounding area see the campus as an attractive crime target."

Hallcrest recommends USF improve its hiring and retention rate by increasing its pay package to a level competitive with surrounding law enforcement agencies.

USF's starting pay is $35,041. That's about $4,000 less than departments such as the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

Police want higher starting pay and a "step plan" that guarantees raises based on service time. But negotiations with USF officials so far are tense and slowgoing.

"We know we need to pay the police more, and we need to fill the open positions, so some of this wasn't a surprise," Gullette said of the consultant's suggestions. "Every recommendation will be carefully considered."

Some of Hallcrest's recommended changes already have already been initiated.

For example, USF President Judy Genshaft announced last month the creation of one public safety unit whose director will coordinate police, security, parking and transportation services.

USF also has contracted with a private security firm for unarmed guards to patrol residence halls and other high-traffic areas.

Hallcrest warns that guards can be an "effective force multiplier," but are no replacement for an armed arresting officer.

Officials are planning for a new campus building to house the public safety division, as Hallcrest's report suggests, Gullette said.

That facility will include space for the police department and the private security guards.

Built to withstand high winds, it will serve as USF's command post during hurricanes or other emergencies.

Gullette said administrators haven't yet reviewed all of Hallcrest's recommendations.

"But we're going to consider everything, and nothing is out of the question."

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

Fast facts: Safety consultant recommendations

Source: Hallcrest Systems Inc.; USF