Although 90% of UT community members say they feel safer on campus than off campus, the Austin Police Department said it will not change its approach to safety in West Campus.
As part of required law enforcement accreditation, the UT Police Department collected safety-related responses from more than 4,500 faculty, staff and students in March and released the results last week. In the responses, 28% said transient crime was the biggest safety concern in the areas immediately off campus.
Tim Pruett is a commander for APD whose jurisdiction includes West Campus. Pruett said these results will not influence APD’s approach to safety in the area.
“(The survey) does not bring up anything that we do not already know,” Pruett said. “It’s not really changing how we do things. It’s just confirming that we’re focusing on the right topics.”
The concern for transient crime in the survey can likely be attributed to the large homeless population around campus, Pruett said, but APD has continued to curb crime like this in the area.
“Begging for money, theft, public intoxication, urinating in public places — those are probably associated more with the homeless population,” Pruett said. “We are enforcing those transient crimes that occur when we see them and when they are brought to our attention.”
Because transient crime mostly occurs off campus and UT police and security guards are mainly concentrated on campus, Pruett said it’s no surprise that 90% of respondents feel safer on campus. Pruett said this does not stop APD from trying to make West Campus as safe as the University.
“Any time you see a rise in crime like burglaries or auto thefts, we put out a directed patrol in that area to try and act as a deterrent,” Pruett said. “We also have officers on bicycles and foot patrol in West Campus.”
In the survey, 21% of participants said threats/attacks are their biggest concerns regarding crime in the areas immediately off campus, 20% said burglary/theft, 16% said dating violence and 10% said traffic violations.
Pruett said in the past, APD’s West Campus district representative has implemented programs to prevent these crimes.
Joell McNew is the president of the SafeHorns, a nonprofit aimed at improving UT student safety. McNew said most students live off campus, so UTPD needs to extend its jurisdiction to combat transient crime and make students feel safer at home.
“Based upon recent APD statistics, (West Campus) receives the most calls, consistently, for emotionally disturbed persons,” McNew said in an email. “What is concerning is students’ fear of that population acting out aggressively towards them as they navigate to and from campus.”
McNew said additional lighting and cameras should also be added to secure student safety off campus.
“How many studies do we need … before we take action?” McNew said. “The mentality that it is ‘just part of going to UT’ is not OK, not safe and shameful.”
Art history sophomore Dil Jones said she’s scared when she’s walking home at night in West Campus, but she said she’s happy police won’t be stepping up patrols in the area.
“Every time I see their presence, it’s more of a spectacle than anyone actually helping someone,” Jones said. “There should be a community watch instead.”