Budget increase means bigger staff, more capabilities for UHPD
The UH Department of Public Safety’s budget for this fiscal year has increased to $5.01 million from $4.66 million, which illustrates how seriously the University takes campus security, UH Chief of Police Malcolm Davis said.
"(The UH administration has) been very progressive, very supportive," he said. "If the need has been there, they’ve always found a way for us to get it."
Davis said most of the $344,000 increase will create four new positions within his department – three for commissioned police officers, bringing the total to 48 as of September.
The fourth new position created in the department is for a police systems technician to manage the University’s alarm systems, 349 security cameras, 78 emergency call boxes and UHPD’s computers. Davis will rely on UH Information Technology, Plant Operations and outside companies until the position is filled.
Once Davis hires on the police systems technician, he will work collaboratively with IT and Plant Operations.
"It’s just easier if I have somebody that works for me, so if there’s a problem I have somebody that can go out and look at it," he said. "There is some stuff that my people do right now, but as far as diagnostics and re-designing systems, I don’t have anybody that does that."
UHPD currently has four open positions for police officers- the three new positions and one position that has been vacant since an officer was promoted in May.
Knowing he would likely be gaining new positions in the fall, Davis said he waited to actively recruit for all the positions at the same time to help streamline the complicated process of applications, tests, background checks, interviews and board hearings needed before approving a candidate.
The department’s budget will rise to $5.01 million for fiscal year 2008 from $4.66 million.
"The amount of money that is being spent on security is continually growing," he said.
About $50,000 of the increase will go to enhance department repairs by purchasing tools and keeping commonly used parts on hand to expedite improvements, Davis said.
The department will request funds for salary and equipment for two additional officers next year, he said, noting the growth of his staff stems from the expansion of the University.
"The amount of money that is being spent on security is continually growing; it isn’t in reaction to any kind of problem," he said. "This is just thinking ahead – as the University grows, how should the department grow?"
In the 2006 Staff Council Fall Forum, UHPD was questioned about having a high officer turnover rate; Davis attributed the problem to his department’s inability to offer a competitive salary.
Last fiscal year, he said, the University instituted a plan to increase police pay each year for three years, and Davis said he has seen improved department retention and increased interest in open positions. Salaries increased by $3,000 in fiscal year 2007 and $2,400 for this fiscal year, he said, though next year’s increase has yet to be determined.
Currently, UH police officers average a salary of $38,400, Davis said, with a starting salary of $32,921. By comparison, Texas Southern University offers a starting salary of between $27,000 and $35,000, University of Texas’ officers start at $36,096 annual salary and an officer with the Houston Police Department makes a minimum of $37,103.30, according to their respective Web sites.
Houston Baptist University reported a starting salary for its officers of $31,500, HBU Police Chief Paula Aguirre said.
"We’re never going to be the highest pay in the area; you don’t need to be, but you need to be high enough that people will at least consider you," Davis said. "You have to keep your salary competitive, but I think a lot of it is this is a really nice place to work – the University’s a fun place."
Davis’ current goal is to approve six candidates, two of who will be on "reserve" for a year in case any other positions become available.
"I’m much more pleased with the applicant pools that we’re getting," he said. "We’re not getting hundreds, we’re never going to get hundred, but we’re getting people that believe in the service aspect of the job. They believe in what we’re doing, that there’s more to law enforcement than (enforcing the law)."
Davis expects the positions to be filled within 60 days and said he is looking for capable, flexible individuals who will fit in well with the campus community.
"We’re looking for the ability to make decisions, that’s the number one thing they have to come in with," he said. "We’re looking for people that embrace and look forward to working with a cultural university, looking for people who are as bright as you can get, who are articulate, who have good writing skills and people who are willing to see law enforcement as a career and not a job."
Davis said he often describes good officers as ones who would stop and move a tire out of the road, even if they weren’t on duty.
"By stopping and doing something outside of their job for 15 or 20 seconds, they could have saved somebody’s life," he said.
Campus versus small town
Bob Walsh, professor of criminal justice at UH-Downtown, said police departments in a university setting are often similar to those of small towns.
"It just depends on the nature of the police department. Some of them are more inclined to service orientation than they are to law enforcement," he said. "That’s an old notion in law enforcement – a lot of smaller police departments are the same way."
However, Walsh noted that in an urban setting, such as the institutions in the UH System, police departments are likely to deal with more than just service calls.
"The more urban you are, the more likely you are to have involvement in crime. So we have that as an issue as well, but (for example), Victoria campus would probably have less than Clear Lake," he said. "If you go to Texas A’M for example, out in the boondocks, they won’t have as (many) problems typically. But then, universities themselves are different from municipality departments – it’s just the nature of the beast."