UTPD needs new violent event protocol

Emily Caldwell

Unfortunately, violent events occurring around campus is something that all of us have to prepare for every day. When campus’ first line of defense — UTPD — notifies students of violent events through social media instead of through mediums that we actually read — such as text or email — it hurts us. Regardless of the severity of a violent event, students must be notified by UTPD as soon as possible through text or email. because whatever it is, it’s always relevant to those of us who call UT home. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, UTPD Chief Dave Carter took to Facebook to explain and defend the decision made by UTPD officials on the night of Sept. 10, when a violent event occurred at 27th street and Whitis Avenue — a location that is barely off campus. Carter explained that the department followed protocol when it made the decision to not send out an emergency notification text.

“An emergency notification text from UTPD is sent by the highest ranking officer on duty when immediate action is required by UT community members to save lives,” Carter said in his post. “If an incident doesn’t rise to that level, such as the incident from last night, we still want to get information out to our community so that they will be informed.”

The only problem is, the alternative method used by UTPD to “get information out to (the UT) community” is social media. UTPD’s Twitter account, @UTAustinPolice, has 22,000 followers. UT’s student population as of Fall 2018 is around 51,331. Clearly, social media is not nearly as effective a way to distribute information as sending out a campus-wide email or text, which goes to every UT student and staff member. 

If a violent event occurs on or even off campus, anywhere near where students reside, students deserve to know about it as soon as it happens. Unless they’re compulsively following UTPD’s Twitter feed, it’s unlikely students will get the message with adequate timing. Only 184 people retweeted the tweet that first announced the violent event at 27th and Whitis, and many students didn’t know anything had happened until the next day when many were talking about it on campus. 

Colton Becker, our current student body president and a nutrition senior, believes the notifications UTPD sends out are critically important to the safety of the student body. “At minimum, the notifications generate awareness amongst students of potentially dangerous areas or situations,” Becker wrote in an email. “(They) improve our ability to act in the interest of our safety.”

The issue at hand has less to do with the event at Whitis and 27th and more to do with the UTPD policy that allowed this event to remain under the radar of the majority of the student body. The violent event — while technically a cut on the arm, not a stabbing — occurred directly across the street from an on-campus residence hall. Still, no student was directly notified via text or email.

Obviously students should not be inundated with insignificant and unimportant information from UTPD, and UTPD’s social media accounts are not without purpose. Violent events should be held to a different standard, however. A different protocol. 

“Even if a text message alert isn’t sent out, all students should be informed of crimes that happen on or near campus,” Becker said.

Using social media alone to distribute critical information about a violent event on or off campus is inconsiderate to UT students. Instead, UTPD should be using campus-wide emails or emergency texts to notify the UT population about any and all violent events that occur on or near campus. No matter the case or the incident, if there is violence involved, students deserve to be informed.

Caldwell is a Latin American studies and journalism sophomore from College Station.