UTPD and APD officers address safety concerns at on-campus coalition meeting

Mikaela Cannizzo

The UT Police Department addressed safety concerns in collaboration with the Austin Police Department, Campus Safety & Security and other community agencies at a town hall meeting on campus Monday afternoon.

The campus safety coalition meeting, which UT hosts once or twice a year, was pre-scheduled for this date and therefore not reactionary to the recent homicide on campus. Speakers addressed parents’ concerns about the safety of their students, the difference between the homeless population and criminal transients, and the importance of students playing an active role in keeping police informed.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the department has continued to increase police patrols in West Campus throughout the past several years. He said while the department is working diligently with UTPD to provide more security cameras and foot and bike patrols for the area, students also have a responsibility to help make campus safer.

“The students are our eyes and ears,” Acevedo said. “When they see problems, issues or challenges, they need to report it.”

Instead of monitoring the homeless population in this area, Acevedo said the department will be focusing on the criminal transient, whom he defined as those that happen to be homeless but are engaged in criminal activity. 

UTPD Chief David Carter said officers started hearing anecdotes from students, faculty and staff in 2014 of a perceived increase in the number of transients along Guadalupe Street. However, this did not match department data for the area because there was a lack of official reports of suspicious activity, Carter said.

Carter said officers are strategically placed in areas statistically shown to have higher crime rates and that a lack of reporting prevents the police from making the best use of their resources. He encouraged students to call 911 if a dangerous or threatening situation arises.

Jennifer Comstock, parent of a UT student, started a private coalition called SafeHorns, which comprises UT parents. Comstock said the group is committed to improving safety and security for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

In addition to advocating for more security measures, such as limiting building access to the public and adding more lighting and cameras, Comstock said students need an alternative method of reporting incidents other than calling 911, such as an app.

“As much as [the police departments] say it, I really do not think they’re going to be able to transition a group of students who have grown up their whole lives understanding that 911 is for extreme emergencies,” Comstock said.  

Bob Harkins, associate vice president of Campus Safety & Security, said students are not using services such as SURE Walk or UTPD vans. He said DPS troopers reported students walking alone at night and failing to pay attention to their surroundings shortly after the homicide.

Colton Becker, nutritional science sophomore and Student Government member, said he thinks students resist taking advantage of these resources because of the culture at the University.

“I think we need to find innovative approaches to implement SURE Walk around campus,” Becker said.

Becker said he has plans to make students more aware of these types of services by starting a UT safety campaign with face-to-face interaction, similar to the Not On My Campus initiative.