UT Police Department partners with School of Social Work to research campus policing

Emily Hernandez

The UT Police Department and Steve Hicks School of Social Work are partnering to examine the challenges of policing campus, protecting UT students and improving the utilization of UTPD’s resources. 

Social work professor Michael Lauderdale and UTPD Chief David Carter began developing the project in the spring to take an in-depth look at how UTPD operates. Lauderdale and Carter have worked together for about 20 years, since Carter worked for the Austin Police Department.

During an Aug. 29 press conference, Carter said the partnership will help UTPD address homelessness around campus. 

“UTPD is currently partnering with the School of Social Work to look for … finding potential solutions as a city and (to) look for housing and mechanisms to house (people who are homeless),” Carter said during the press conference. 

Lauderdale said the project will focus in part on training officers in community policing and investing in technology to help UTPD better communicate with the UT community.


“(We’ll be) looking at the composition of the UTPD as a patrol force and what kind of current and future challenges they have,” Lauderdale said. “One of the challenges is homelessness on the campus and in various housing areas like West Campus, basically with a concern of, ‘How do we provide safety and protection for students, for staff and for faculty?’”

The School of Social Work launched the Public Safety certificate in 2017, and Lauderdale is teaching the introductory course, Social Work and Public Safety. Lauderdale said he plans to use classwork from the course as research for the project.

“(My students will) do research with regard to things like geographical risk area for students, what are the times during the day when students feel they’re most at risk and then what are the issues within which we deploy UTPD’s resources,” Lauderdale said. “One of the things I’m concerned about … is the safety of students that live elsewhere in Austin where housing is inexpensive, and often those are neighborhoods where they’re not as safe as other neighborhoods.”

Pre-social work junior Emily Ballard said she changed her schedule so that she could take Lauderdale’s public safety course. She said Lauderdale told the class they will be doing hands-on work with UTPD, including visiting the station and interviewing officers.

“The thing I think is the most interesting is that the perspective he really wants to teach on this semester is about community policing and policing in a way in our nation that starts with, ‘How do we make the police a part of the community,’ not just, ‘How do we put away criminals?’” Ballard said. 

Ballard said she wants to go into social work to collaborate with police because the knowledge social workers would bring into a police department would be valuable in handling people in crises. 

“If you think about the crises that police officers are called to, why wouldn’t you want them to be trained in how to work in the community at large or even work with people on an individual basis to understand their needs and be able to assess them?” Ballard said.