UTPD takes active measures to keep employees safe

Lauren Girgis

With the University located in downtown Austin, safety concerns are common among UT faculty and staff. The UT Police Department, the Victim Advocate Network and UT Staff Council work together to combat crime and assist victims.

In May 2019, a staff member was victim to an indecent exposure in a bathroom in the Main Building. In July, a staff member was assaulted by a former student in the south plaza of the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Building. In August, a facilities employee was assaulted while walking to his car from the Facilities Complex Building, according to incident notifications provided by UTPD. 

“UTPD’s purpose is to keep our community safe, and in my experience, much of the work involves getting ahead of issues by working with as many organizations as possible,” UTPD officer Dustin Farahnak said in an email.

Farahnak said district representatives are available to give University staff safety presentations. He said safety concerns, such as lack of lighting around campus and deficiencies in safety infrastructure, can also be reported to a district representative.

“It also helps me because I can know if we have a big uptick in (a) particular concern,” Farahnak said. “We try to use data to more effectively locate problems and, of course, deter them.”

Farahnak said when University employees have a safety concern, they should assess a situation and decide who to call. For nonemergencies, such as poor lighting or a question, contacting a district representative and calling the Behavioral Concerns Advice Line (512-232-5050) are options, Farahnak said in an email.

“If (UTPD) is in touch with you, it’s so much easier for me to do my job,” Farahnak said. “It’s not imposing on UTPD to ask for assistance. It’s helping us.”

Farahnak said in the event of a crime, the Victim Advocate Network is called to the scene to provide mental health first aid. A volunteer will speak with the victim briefly, said volunteer Larrimie Gordon. 

“(We) assess the emotions of the person in that moment,” Gordon said. “We provide them with resources … and help them with any sort of immediate safety planning (or) contacting people in their support system.”

UT Staff Council chair Sandra Catlett said the council advocates for staff members and represents their interests to administration and organizations on campus. Catlett said the council has found UTPD willing to make changes and improvements that the council recommends. 

“In May, there was an exposure incident at the (West Pickle Research) Building up at Pickle research campus,” Catlett said. “UTPD understood that maybe the practices that (they) had in place at that time for monitoring things at a remote location like that weren’t the best practices. They listened to our concerns and suggestions, and they completely changed their patrolling there.” 

Catlett said supervisors can foster a sense of community and support employees to create a safe environment. 

“If I feel like I’m close with a co-worker, I might be more willing to say, ‘Hey let’s walk out to our cars together when we leave tonight,’” Catlett said.

Cailyn Wesstrom, a Perry-Castañeda Library student associate, said her supervisors make her feel safe and comfortable at work. 

“We have safe words at work, if a patron is being … aggressive, flirty or just making people uncomfortable,” advertising senior Wesstron said.