UTPD, Texas DPS increase patrols around campus on first day of classes

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A UTPD vehicle keeps watch at the east side of campus on Jan. 21, 2020. 

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

UT Police Department and Texas Department of Public Safety campus patrols surged as students returned to campus following an order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott for increased law enforcement around state buildings.

In the Jan. 9 letter addressed to DPS director Steve McCraw, Abbott ordered DPS troopers to monitor within two blocks of all Austin state buildings, including the University. Abbott’s letter came in response to two separate downtown Austin stabbings involving homeless people, which left one restaurant employee dead, according to The Texas Tribune.

Texas DPS troopers are patrolling Guadalupe Street in cars and motorcycles labeled “Texas State Trooper.” DPS troopers on bikes wear a red shoulder patch on their uniform sleeves labeled “Department of Public Safety.”

Austin Police Cmdr. Tim Pruett oversees West Campus patrols and said about 10 to 12 officers are assigned to West Campus on any given day. Pruett said APD divides their patrols by sector, and the number of officers assigned to a sector depends on the geographic size of the area and the number of 911 calls reported.

“We have officers on bikes that are already out there, and they’re looking where the high concentration of (911) calls would be,” Pruett said. 

Pruett said the number of officers stationed in West Campus is consistent with the number of officers stationed to other sectors in Austin. 

Pruett said APD previously partnered with UTPD for on-campus patrols and with DPS for higher-risk events such as music festivals and protests. He said the partnership with DPS and UTPD will not be any different from past patrol experiences.

 

SafeHorns, a nonprofit organization that advocates for increased safety on campus and in student neighborhoods, thanked Abbott via Twitter for involving DPS and said there are still off-campus safety improvements to be made. SafeHorns president Joell McNew said they previously met with The University of Southern California to learn about their campus safety model, which involves brighter street lights at night, high-definition cameras and an extended patrol zone of two and a half miles beyond campus. McNew said although SafeHorns proposed USC’s model to UT, the University did not extend safety measures to beyond campus.

“When you look at the history and creation of (West Campus) specifically intended to be housing for students, there’s responsibility in that,” McNew said. “So why didn’t (the city of Austin and the University), as they created that area, create crime prevention by environmental design? Why didn’t they make sure the lighting meets standard?”

McNew said although some people think the increased patrols and campus safety is a political discussion, she thinks it is not. 

“This is all nonpartisan. This is about crime,” McNew said. “This is something that students ask for already.” 

Psychology sophomore Madison Smith said she thinks the increased DPS patrols will make her feel safer when walking to class and back to her apartment in West Campus.

“Sometimes I want to study at the library really late, but I am always like, ‘Maybe I should come home early,’ because you don’t want to risk anything bad happening to you,” Smith said. “I just wish it was a little bit more safe.”