By Joshua Neiderer, The Oracle (U. South Florida)
TAMPA, Fla. -- In an attempt to support a beleaguered University Police Department (UP) and address safety concerns, University of South Florida administrators have begun a bidding process to bring in a private security force to patrol campus.
The intent is to lighten the load on UP by providing unarmed security guards to patrol areas on foot and take care of some of the mundane tasks, such as locking doors and operating security systems, that now fall to UP officers.
Some officers and representatives of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) said the university's move is misguided and could divert funds which might otherwise be used to improve UP's patrolling force.
Instead, unarmed security guards - who aren't subjected to the same rigorous background checks as UP officers - would be used to patrol the campus and ultimately call the officer to the scene if an incident were to occur, said three UP officers who requested anonymity.
"We were totally blown away when we heard (USF's plans to bring in security guards)," said Corporal Stephanie Crookston, a representative of the PBA, which represents UP in ongoing negotiations with the University. "It seemed to us like they were saying, 'Hey look, we're addressing the security concerns,' without actually addressing them."
However, officials with the University insist that money used to fund a security force will not affect the negotiations with UP.
Any money used to fund a security force would be non-recurring. This means any contract signed would be limited to one year and the force would be subject to re-evaluation before it is renewed, Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall said.
Additionally, all security guards would be subject to background checks and regular drug tests, Meningall said. The agency would report directly to the chief of police and be used to free officers to patrol campus and focus on emergency situations.
"We want eyes and ears across campus," Meningall said. "This is a way to prevent (officers) from having to do non-policing work, such as locking doors or attending low risk events, like a wedding."
The total cost is still under negotiation and is unavailable to view because the bidding process has not yet ended.
According to the invitation to negotiate the document that sets parameters for the bidding process, guards would be required to wear uniforms and badges. They would remain unarmed but would be responsible for "responding to any call received" and "external and internal inspection and patrol of University property."
Despite this, Crookston said she remains skeptical.
"Our question was, if you have these funds, why not put them in the police department," she said. "Ultimately, it doesn't address the problems the police department is having now."
Neither the University of Florida nor Florida State University employs a private security force.
However, UF's department of housing pays guards to patrol residence halls and FSU's police department directly employs five to six guards to patrol buildings on its campus.