UTPD launches Be Safe campaign, reaches out to students

Katie Keenan

UTPD launched its Be Safe campaign Friday while awaiting the release of the Department of Public Safety’s security assessment that began months ago in the wake of freshman Haruka Weiser’s murder. According to University media relations director J.B. Bird, the entirety of the assessment is to be released in around 10 days, after which UTPD will implement.

The new safety campaign will include a heavier focus on reaching out to students and developing relationships through community policing and a greater virtual presence.

“It’s different this year because we know that safety is on everyone’s mind after the murder last April and the new campus carry law,” UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said. “It’s also different in that we are using positive but powerful messaging and visuals.”

Social media will be a key aspect of this new messaging strategy, Posey said.

The new campaign kickoff was coupled with a UTPD meet-and-greet at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Peter Scheets, UTPD assistant police chief, explained the event was a part of the station’s community-focused policing strategy and was proposed by patrol officers themselves.

“Often times police view a neighborhood or a community solely from the perspective of crime statistics,” Scheets said. “What we find is when we get out into the community and ask members, ‘What are your issues? What are your concerns?’,  [we learn that] they have to deal with issues that are not law-enforcement related.”

For example, walking alone in a dimly lit area would qualify as a safety concern but not as a law-enforcement issue, said Scheets. 

These ambiguous points of interest are what the DPS report recently covered, with other examples being homelessness on Guadalupe Street or landscape visibility.

A University campus security update released in early July detailed the progress made on some of these issues, emphasizing a collaborative partnership between the city of Austin,  Austin Police Department and UTPD to make campus safer. 

“The City, APD and UTPD have increased their police and code enforcement presence in the area west of Guadalupe Street, which in recent years has attracted some transients engaged in aggressive behavior … the City has worked with residents and businesses to clean alleyways and ensure the removal of trash,” the update said.

Assigning the same officers to specific patrol units where they can establish relationships with students, faculty and staff who frequent those areas is a strategy that will address these harder-to-define issues, Scheets said.

“The regular patrol officers … are making an effort to get out of those vehicles, get into the buildings, on foot … open dialogue with the community,” Scheets said.

UTPD officer Michael Murphy engaged with faculty and parents at the meeting Friday, where he said the recent patrol assignment change has made his policing more effective.

“Yesterday, the garage was lit up, and today it was completely dark,” said Murphy, who covers the eastern end of campus. “I know there’s a change, whereas if we had a different officer there every day, they may not know what cars are normally in the garage. Now we know what the area is supposed to look like, and if there’s a problem, we can identify it.”