University police are here for the USF Health community [video]

The nooks and crannies of the many, large and maze-like buildings that make of USF Health could seem impossible to navigate by anyone. But if faculty, staff or students need help, it’s good to know there is a team from the University Police Department (UPD) dedicated to USF Health. In fact, the team is based at USF Health and each officer thoroughly knows those nooks and crannies.

UPD Sergeant Mark Aristizabal supervises the USF Health team of officers. The main unit is located in the MDC courtyard, just across from the USF Health Bookstore. In addition, there are two sub-station offices, one in the USF Health Psychiatry Center and one in the Florida Mental Health Institute facility.

USF Health, UPD, Police, department

The USF Health police unit includes: Sgt. Mark Aristizabal, and Bob Westfall (security officer), Louis Greto (security officer), and Tracey Hopper (police officer).

The multiple sites give UPD easy access to all areas of USF Health when calls for help come in, Sgt. Aristizabal said.

“USF Health is a massive complex and needs officers with a great understanding of the geography,” he said. “If a call comes in for service, someone unfamiliar with USF Health may not know immediately that it’s from the third floor in the far eastern corner, for example. These officers have that specialty. And they also have a good understanding of the day-to-day business that takes place here, as well as the chemicals that are in the area and the hazmat concerns. They have that increased knowledge.”

USF Health has had its own UPD officer almost since the area was built in the early 1970s. Expanded facilities, buildings and colleges, along with a lot more people, over the years require a greater security presence. So today there are four officers who staff the three locations, in addition to the patrol officers that patrol the campus and surrounding areas. In essence, USF Health is being patrolled 24/7.

In general, crime rates are not high at USF Health and typically include mostly property crime, Sgt. Aristizabal said. But because he specializes in crime prevention – certified by Florida’s Attorney General’s Office, in fact – any crime seems frustrating.

“Property crime is the number one issue we deal with on campus and a lot of the times it could easily be prevented by securing valuables, locking doors, and keeping valuables out of the sight of criminals,” he said. “I took this job because I like to help people. That’s kind of the crime prevention passion, getting out in the community and working with folks and getting them to understand that they can help themselves just as much as I can help them keep themselves safe.”

The first step in helping, he said, is to call when you have concerns.

“We’re always available to respond to any suspicious activity, be it people or suspicious articles,” he said. “We encourage folks to report suspicious activity and suspicious persons. It’s our job to respond. And we’ll identify whether or not that suspicious activity lends itself to any criminal activity and we’ll take action if it does.”

How do we know when to make that call? Sgt. Aristizabal offers a foundational suggestion: Anything that gives you that gut feeling that something is wrong or out of the ordinary.

“If you’re walking through the parking lot and you see something that just doesn’t add up, some behavior, something someone is doing that doesn’t make sense to you, you call,” he said. “As staff, faculty and students here, you have a better understanding of what happens on a regular basis and it’s important that if you identify something that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck or that gut feeling, you call us. Or if you come into work at 6 a.m. and you know there’s a select group of vehicles you see every morning or select group of staff you see walking to and from, and you see there’s someone loitering around that you don’t know, maybe looking into cars or doing something suspicious, call us. It’s our job to respond to those things. That’s what we’re here for.”

Sgt. Aristizabal urges faculty, staff and students across USF Health to be more active in helping keep USF Health safe for everyone, and offers key points we should all consider:

If you run into an emergency situation, first and foremost call 9-1-1.

If it’s a pressing emergent situation, like seeing someone looking in car windows or someone up on the floors loitering or going in and out of an office or something that just doesn’t add up, call 9-1-1.

If your concern is something delayed – you saw something earlier that morning and now it’s late afternoon and it has you wondering – then call the non-emergency number, which is 813-974-2628.

Sgt. Aristizabal has worked for USF’s University Police Department for eight years, seven of which have been in the University Police Patrol Division.

“I’m happy to be here at USF Health,” he said. “It’s a great community, very accepting of law enforcement. They love us here and we love being here.”

Crime prevention tips

  • Remain aware of your surroundings: you may be able to catch something or see something and report it before a crime actually occurs.
  • Reach out to the police: I can’t tell you how many times crimes occur and it’s a witness-rich environment and somebody could have called, and nobody did – so take the next step and call.
  • Follow the same safety efforts you do at home: lock your car doors, secure your valuables.