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10-22-2007, 12:24 PM
USF safety, or lack of, will come at a price
By SUE CARLTON, Times Columnist
Published October 19, 2007


The University of South Florida's sprawling Tampa campus is bordered by busy thoroughfares and urban neighborhoods that keep the local cops busy.

Meanwhile, USF's on-campus police force has thinned to ranks that could rival Mayberry.

This is an exaggeration, of course. The USF police budget does allow its officers actual bullets for their guns, and they are generally considered to be a competent group of campus cops.

But the numbers have gotten pretty scary.

These days, USF has one officer per 963 students, compared to one for every 599 students back in 2000, and compared to one for every 564 students currently at the University of Florida.

USF staffs as few as four cops per shift for nearly 40,000 students enrolled, including more than 4,000 who live on campus. Add faculty, staff, and everyone at the hospitals and elementary and charter schools on campus, and you've got a police force serving something like 60,000 people.

Now add to that a pending proposal that would require freshman from outside the Tampa Bay area to live on campus, and you've got yourself a population that requires a solid police presence.

And a potential PR problem, if not something much worse.

Because, yes, bad stuff happens at school.

Besides routine burglaries and thefts and vandalism, the USF police handle assaults and sex offenses.

Last year, a man who had just left his fiancee's residence hall was shot dead in a campus parking lot during a robbery.

The specter of Virginia Tech, of what would happen if a winnowed-down police force had to take on a madman with a gun, is a daunting thought.

So what gives?

It was heartening, particularly for a USF alum like myself, to see dozens of peacefully protesting students gather this week to demand more money for police as well as an investigation of the head of student affairs, whose responsibilities include overseeing the police department.

(You go, Bulls - way to defy that apathetic commuter student image!)

Maybe fat administrative salaries and other spending deserves a good, hard look. Maybe priorities are out of whack.

As a practical matter, here's a big chunk of the trouble: City and county police departments, including Tampa, St. Petersburg and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, can afford to pay their officers more.

What's more, those agencies have a "step" plan that doles out steady salary increases every few years.

Which USF used to have, but no longer does.

Any wonder police positions go vacant and good cops head for greener pastures?

USF police Chief Thomas Longo has sensibly suggested a plan to keep the department attractive and competitive with a step plan. This, of course, will require money. But it seems crazy this is even a question.

The university we're all so proud of these days has a responsibility beyond making sure the campus bookstore stocks enough foam fingers for the next home game, and that is protecting its students.

Imagine the day USF makes headlines not for football rankings, but for a public lament that police and student safety were not its priorities.

10-22-2007, 06:00 PM
:D :D :D

Its really amazing how out of touch USF really is.

Thank you St Pete Times