Since the death of dance freshman Haruka Weiser in 2016, UTPD and the office of Campus Safety and Security have collaborated with other University departments and student organizations to create a safer environment on campus, said Jimmy Johnson, interim associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security.
“We wanted to be conducive for people to enjoy leisure time, to study, to learn and research,” Johnson said. “We started reviewing and implementing some meaningful measures designed to better serve our campus constituents.”
Following Weiser’s death, UT President Gregory Fenves asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct a security assessment of campus to look for improvements to ensure campus safety. Some of the changes that the Texas DPS recommended included restricting building access, adding better lighting and upgrading video surveillance.
According to Johnson, the UT campus has seen more developments over the past two years, such as a stronger SURE Walk program, more emergency call boxes and more buildings equipped with an access and control system that allows UT students to enter with their ID cards.
In the long term, he said the CSS office hopes to dedicate its efforts to ensure that the nighttime-campus is as safe as possible.
“Some of these programs are the enhancement of lighting, the reduction of foliage, the incorporation of a community policing concept, having an interest in being self-aware and helping your neighbor out,” Johnson said. “Safety awareness and education are vital concepts because safety is a shared campus responsibility.”
Johnson said one of the safety resources CSS is having difficulty in providing is an effective safety app. He said students want resources like safety apps, however, Wi-Fi coverage has to be excellent for the apps to work.
“With Wi-Fi connectivity on campus we have several hurdles we have to get through,” Johnson said. “Certainly our Information Technology Services department is continuing to evaluate our Wi-Fi coverage and looking at ways to enhance it. Every place that we put a wireless access point is about two to three thousand dollars. So as you start trying to cover a campus this large, just think of the cost that goes into that.”
David Carter, UTPD Chief of Police, said UTPD has been working on increasing the number of police officers on campus, and in the future would like to improve communication with students.
“A specific objective of ours is really about information sharing,” Carter said. “The police department has grown in its staffing, but connectivity in terms of sharing information is currently underway so really it boils down to the fact that we want to know if we’re effectively communicating and also receiving that information.”
Mathematics senior Samantha Hart lived near Waller Creek her sophomore year, during the semester of Weiser’s on-campus death. Hart said the event made her more conscious about campus safety.
“Simply knowing about SURE Walk is really helpful,” Hart said. “Maybe at the start of every semester it should be something that professors have to mention, especially if it is a late night class or if students are going to be studying often at night.”