APD offers running trail safety initiative following recent attacks

Reagan Ritterbush

Following recent attacks off-campus, including one where a UT student was hit in the back of the head near Harris Park, the Austin Police Department is hosting Run/Walk with APD Cops to educate the public about running and walking safely on trails.

Participants will be able to bond with cops as they run alongside them and receive safety tips about running alone. APD Lt. Katrina Pruitt said the idea for creating the event came about after one of her police officers talked to a woman who was scared to run and walk in Austin parks.

“He was upset that this lady didn’t think he or any officer could protect her,” Pruitt said. “He decided the department needed to build a better relationship with people walking in our parks. I decided (Run/Walk with APD Cops) was the solution.”

Emman Fatima, a philosophy and journalism sophomore, said she’s felt unsafe when running in off-campus parks because of the recent attacks.

“It’s scarier off-campus now than I ever thought it would be,” Fatima said. “Running with cops might build my confidence level enough to actually run on my own.”

The previous events have featured officers from APD’s bomb, recruiting, SWAT and academy units. Participants have the option of running a three-mile loop, four-mile loop or two-mile walk.

“Different officers with different runs, speeds or paces simply go out and run with members of the community,” Pruitt said. “All the units that have participated have done it to be seen. They want the community to know who they are and what they can do for them.”

The majority of participants from the past seven events have been runners, Pruitt said.

“People who have been running in these parks and trails think this event is phenomenal,” Pruitt said. “All we want to do is help diminish the development of the fear factor. These trails are for the community and should not be run by criminals.”

APD decided to make the events about running, because it allows officers to keep up with their physical training while showing the community that officers are just like them, Pruitt said.

“My guys have to take physical fitness tests all the time so keeping up with their training through these events helps, but this is really for the community,” Pruitt said. “People need to be able to relate to us and know we are just regular people as well. It’s a lot easier to walk up and talk to someone you can relate to than someone you can’t.”

Electrical engineering freshman Asad Mhaed said although he is not afraid of walking off-campus, police presence on trails can help those who are afraid.

“Attacks like these happen all the time and I don’t think you can just stop going outside because of them,” Mhaed said. “But for students who are afraid, I suppose knowing there are more police officers present in parks will only help if they actually trust the police. Having more of something doesn’t mean anything gets better unless we trust in it.”

APD does not have a set date for the next Run/Walk with APD Cops event but will be doing one soon, Pruitt said.