As he was leaving Harbor Hall one afternoon in August, USF St. Petersburg student Nicholas Palmer, 20, was accosted by a bicyclist who tried to grab his backpack.
When an off-campus security vehicle pulled into a nearby parking lot, Palmer said, the would-be robber fled empty-handed.
As unsettling as the incident was, Palmer said he believes the campus is a safe, secure area.
“Just be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
The university police chief David Hendry said that’s excellent advice. While crime on campus is rare, he said, students should stay alert and promptly report any suspicious activity.
“Our department has a high visibility rate, and most students believe we are a safe campus,” he said. “But always take precautions.”
Over the summer, university police took steps to increase security at Residence Hall One, home to approximately 350 students. They added new security cameras, eliminated some foliage behind the building, and installed a blue emergency phone there.
Meanwhile, student government plans to get involved in campus security. Student Body President Jozef Gherman said he hopes to revive a so-called student Safe and Free Escort Team (SAFE) team to help campus police monitor parking lots and walkways.
Until it was disbanded in late 2010, students trained by university police patrolled in six-seat golf carts and gave rides to students, faculty and staff.
“We’re reviving it [the SAFE team] because student security and safety is a top priority,” said Gherman.
University campuses, especially those in urban settings, can be a magnet for transients and opportunistic criminals, and USFSP is apparently no exception.
According to the campus police 2014-2015 annual report, there have been 8 vehicle thefts, 7 burglaries, 4 aggravated assaults, 2 robberies and 4 rape cases that have been reported in the last few years.
Last year a USFSP student was arrested on a charge of sexual assault and kicked out of school, currently awaiting trial. In another incident, police said an intoxicated 31-year-old man threatened two male students with a 3.78-inch knife and followed his 19-year-old girlfriend into RHO. Police ordered a campus lock down and charged the man – who was not a student – with two counts of aggravated assault.
A more typical incident came Sept. 13, when freshman Emily Grace Lind discovered that her bicycle had been stolen from the RHO bike rack. All that remained was her front tire and U-Lock, a heavy, rigid U-shaped metal ring that attaches to the bike racks crossbars.
Surveillance video showed a man unscrewing the bike from its frame, adding a front tire and riding away. The police informed her that the same man had been involved in similar bike thefts at RHO.
A few weeks earlier, another bike was also stolen on campus.
Lind, 18, bought another bike and, at the suggestion of police, keeps it in her room.
“I personally feel safe on campus, but for my belongings, no,” she said.
Campus police advise students with bikes to register them with the police and get a U-lock. Students who live on campus should store their bikes in their rooms.
Students who get around on foot can get escort rides with campus police, Chief Hendry said.
If you need safe transportation or see some suspicious activity around campus, call (727) 873-4140 or use the nearest blue phone.