Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its original publication.
1. On July 17, a West Campus resident was killed one block from campus.
On the morning of July 17, 18-year-old Stephen Roy Sylvester Jr. was found unconscious inside the GrandMarc Apartment Complex on West 26th Street, one block away from the UT-Austin campus. Austin Police Department found Sylvester while responding to a welfare request at approximately 5:49 a.m. APD then transported him to University Medical Center Brackenridge, where he died of a head wound. APD is investigating Sylvester’s death as a homicide and has a suspect, Bryan Michael Canchola, in custody. Canchola was charged with murder on July 19. This would be the fifth murder to have taken place in West Campus since 2005.
2. There is no ongoing threat to students or residents.
According to a letter GrandMarc management sent to residents, there is no ongoing threat to residents because the suspect is in APD custody. Although the two men were not UT students, they were residents in a complex that is largely occupied by UT students and is one of the closest West Campus apartment buildings to campus. While students should take notice of this crime, they should not be concerned for their safety.
3. UTPD did not report the death to campus.
On the afternoon of July 17, the University of Texas System Police tweeted, “APD investigating a death off campus. APD reports suspect apprehended. No indication of a threat to campus.” Despite APD releasing little information, UTPD’s coverage of the potential homicide was disappointing. The solitary tweet vaguely referred to a death, without acknowledging that APD was investigating the death as a homicide. Also, reporting the potential homicide as taking place off campus rather than somewhere more specific, such as in West Campus or a block from the Belo Center for New Media, was misleading. UTPD’s social media policy sends campus alerts on APD cases and lower level crimes when the details are released and relevant to campus; strictly speaking, UTPD acted according to that alert policy. But expanding its detailed coverage area to West and North Campus ought to be in order, due to the high number of student residents, despite neither being a part of UT-Austin technically. In the past, UTPD has chosen to alert students via email of assaults on or around campus and evacuations of campus buildings; they have also chosen to alert followers via Twitter to pending APD investigations into assaults and bomb threats on campus, so expanding their online coverage to email would not be a big leap. According to UTPD spokesperson Cindy Posey, UTPD knew enough information to determine that there was no threat to campus and therefore no need to issue a campus Safety Alert. However, the majority of UT students live off-campus and commute because of UT’s lack of on campus housing. This factor merits far more consideration as UTPD’s alert policy serves to inform students of threats in addition to preventing and intervening in crimes. UTPD’s failure to send a notification to the community was within its policies but not within reasonable bounds of reporting criminal activities to a community that largely lives near the scene of the crime.
4. UTPD can patrol, but not intervene in crimes, in West Campus — and that’s a problem.
According to Posey, UTPD has not been involved in the pending APD investigation. UTPD has primary jurisdiction over the UT-Austin campus, not the surrounding area. Such lack of involvement is because UTPD’s jurisdiction does not extend to the West and North campus areas. Despite their misleading titles, they are not a part of UT-Austin property or campus. UTPD only works on cases that take place in such areas when APD requests assistance, because they maintain primary jurisdiction, despite the heavy student population living in both locations. UTPD can patrol these areas, however, and does so frequently, especially in collaboration with APD to deal with periods of heavier crime. Such collaboration should become more systematic across the Departments, given their good working relationship. The two avenues for development should be structured in a way that allows UTPD to patrol West Campus areas that have perpetually high crime rates and increase information sharing on APD investigations that involve students. Ultimately, UTPD’s lack of involvement is a symptom of a policy that is self-inhibiting. UTPD should be mindful of where students are, and UTPD should gather and disperse the information to protect students off campus, too.
Clark is an English senior from Lake Highlands. Smith is a history and humanities senior from Austin.
Update: Bryan Michael Canchola has formally been charged with murder. This article has been altered to reflect this development.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that UTPD has chosen to alert students via email of off-campus bomb threats and increases in vehicular break-ins throughout West Campus. It has since been updated to reflect that UTPD has alerted followers via Twitter of these incidents, and that UTD has alerted students to assaults on or around campus and evacuations of campus buildings. We regret our error and any confusion it caused.