UTPD offers UT community chance to interact with officers

Reagan Ritterbush

The UT community will again have an opportunity to interact with the UT Police Department when the 15th session of Citizen Police Academy begins Oct. 11.

The academy is a seven-week program designed to bring together members of the UT community and UT police officers. Lt. Gregory Stephenson said this allows for an interaction that may not happen on campus.

“It’s important to understand how police officers do their jobs and why they do things certain ways,” Stephenson said. “Our goal is mainly to show that we are a transparent department.”

Assistant Chief Don Verett started the academy with Stephenson in 2006 after writing a paper about citizen police academies at other police departments.

“This academy was an initiative to counter stereotypes that are often barriers to meaningful discussion between cops and civilians,” Stephenson said.

Running in three-hours blocks for seven consecutive Monday nights, the academy offers various lectures, demonstrations, tours and hands-on practice for participants. Officers from different units within the UTPD will come in to discuss their specific jobs and how they relate to the community.

“I sometimes can’t believe how many units we have,” Stephenson said. “From the canine unit and bicycle unit to the records units, participants have the ability to learn about them all.”

Another important feature of the academy is officers being able to speak openly with citizens about a wide variety of community interests, Stephenson said.

“The flip side to this program is hearing where we as a department can improve,” Stephenson said. “We always have room to learn, and the people of this community have to ability to help us with that.”

Physics junior Aaron Kim said participating in this program is far more about building relationships than it is about learning what the UTPD does.

“When we, as participants in the academy, began discussing our ideas for the department with actual officers, it became a productive program,” said Kim, who participated last year. “I wanted them to know what I thought, and they wanted to know too.”

The academy only takes place in the fall. Most sessions have an average of 15 participants, including students, UT faculty, UT parents and Austin residents.

“Our job doesn’t stop at the University property line,” Stephenson said. “We are grateful to hear from anyone living around UT as well as within.”

Stephenson said there have been participants who originally were not pro-police and began to understand the UTPD’s job in the Austin community upon attending the academy.

“That scenario is the whole reason we started this,” Stephenson said. “The best possible outcome of this is showing the community how much we want a healthy relationship with them.”

The deadline to apply is Oct. 2. Stephenson said as long as an applicant passes the background check, he or she will be allowed to attend. Participants who go to at least six lessons will be given a graduate certificate.

Editor's Note: The Daily Texan misidentified a chemistry junior in the story. The paper regrets the error.