Taking steps toward more secure USF campus

A Times Editorial
Published December 29, 2007

The report by an independent security consultant should clear the way for the University of South Florida to reach a fair salary package with its campus police.

The findings by Hallcrest Systems Inc. make three valuable contributions to the discussion. First, the study looked across the board at USF's security needs, assessing everything from student growth to the campus' proximity to a nearby high-crime neighborhood. That gives the university a baseline to assess its security challenges as they evolve down the road. The study underscored that police staffing problems were exacerbated by the non-competitive pay package for officers. USF's starting pay is $35,041, about $4,000 less than Tampa-area police departments. Finally, having recommendations from an outside expert should remove some of the emotion between the two negotiating sides as contract talks continue. The quicker USF and the police union agree on pay, the sooner they both can focus their attention on the campus' long-term security needs.

The university acknowledged last week it needs to pay officers more and plug the ongoing problem with vacancies. It vowed to "consider everything" and that "nothing is out of the question." USF already has put some recommendations in place and hired private guards to increase security near campus residence halls.

Still, the focus needs to be on stabilizing the department's armed officer corps. USF and its officers are not too far apart. The police budget includes money for 53 officer positions; a percentage here or there for a pay bump is affordable in the context of the overall budget. USF said the talks had reached an impasse, and both sides seem to be hardening their position. That is not good for security or USF's image. The university needs to focus on one overriding goal: Retaining experienced officers who work well in a college campus setting and hiring an adequate force.