University police need students’ help to make campus safer

David Carter

Editor’s note: This column is in response to a Letter from the Editor addressing how quickly UTPD releases information about incidents on campus. 

The UT Police Department strives to share information across various media formats including but not limited to email, Facebook, Twitter, texts, the siren/PA system and University websites. An “emergency notification” is sent anytime UTPD receives a threat to life call that is in progress or has just occurred.  While the vast majority of police calls do not rise to that level, there are some that clearly do, such as a shooting or stabbing. 

In a situation where we need to immediately communicate that you need to take action to potentially protect your life, we will send out a text in addition to the other formats mentioned above. We sent out a message about what was initially reported as a robbery last Monday night. Our students heeded the message and quickly contacted us, which eventually led us directly to the suspect. That very incident showed the importance of police and community engagement. When police and the community effectively communicate, there is no doubt our community remains safer.

I recently met with The Daily Texan editor-in-chief Liza Anderson regarding our communications about incidents occurring on or near campus. Our discussion included what students need to know or do in such situations. I believe the following things are important for students to consider:

1. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you personally observe violence or threatening behavior.

2. Ask if anyone has called 9-1-1 if you are texting friends, posting on social media or using a form of chat room discussing something potentially dangerous happening on campus. Police may not be aware of an incident.

3. Recognize that social media is replete with incorrect information that sometimes comes from “third-hand” parties who are unintentionally passing on misinformation. For example, when a disturbance was reported at the Union Building last month, there was talk of a handgun being displayed or that a robbery had occurred, which was not factual. No firearm was involved at any time.

4. UTPD does not have the capacity to continually monitor social media, so we may not be aware of what information is being transmitted.

5. We need the public’s help to keep our campus safe. We routinely put information on our social media feeds even if it does not meet the true “emergency notification” category.

There are any number of incidents or situations that may cause fear. Please know that we will respond to those issues as quickly as possible. As I have mentioned in the past, our first priority is to respond and control the situation at hand. Second, your police have a responsibility to get out correct information as soon as possible. As a reminder, the “text” is reserved to give you specific directions as to how to take action and protect yourself or others when in a dangerous situation. We are on the verge of further enhancing our two-way communication process between students and UTPD — more on that soon. In the meantime, please don’t forget to consult with your district representative officers to discuss this matter in greater detail. You may email them directly by using our interactive map found at  https://police.utexas.edu/meet-your-officers-district-map or through a link on the front of our home page.

Carter is the chief of police for the University.