Don’t rely on new safety measures to protect you from crime

Abby Springs

Austin is a big city. With nearly one million people, it’s the 11th largest city in the United States — and the UT campus is right smack dab in the middle of it.

Living in a large, urban environment has its benefits: good food, nightlife and plenty of things to do. But like any downtown area, those benefits inevitably come with occasional crime. 

Several weeks ago, two UT students were attacked on 6th Street. In response, Gov. Greg Abbott said he heard “urgent pleas” by UT students for increased lighting and security tools, sparking an announcement by Fenves for new security measures.  

Although new safety measures are coming to West Campus, it’s important that you don’t let your guard down. Don’t rely on police or lighting or cameras to save you — there’s not much indication that some of these safety measures will actually protect you from crime. 

Research that lighting reduces crime has been mixed for decades. One study found little to no effect on crime levels in American cities, while another found that crime levels actually increased in well-lit urban areas.

Furthermore, security tools around campus don’t seem to do much either. From 2013 to 2018, the yellow emergency call boxes were not used to report any on-campus crimes. 

Areas around campus will also see new surveillance cameras, called High Activity Location Observation cameras. Already in use by the Austin Police Department, these cameras are effective — in catching criminals after the crime has already occured. However, like urban lighting, studies don’t always show that cameras actually deter crime from happening. They’ll help the police catch the person who attacked you but won’t necessarily stop you from getting attacked in the first place.

While the new safety measures may or may not reduce crime, it is possible that they will give students a false sense of security. Street lighting, for example, often makes people feel safer than they actually are. That’s why it’s important to take your own precautions when going out at night rather than relying on the new safety measures to protect you.

“If you’re going out, have a plan,” UTPD chief David Carter said. “Have friends using a buddy system because there’s always safety in numbers.”

If you’re going to be drinking, try to bring a sober friend along with you. The incidents that sparked the new safety measures took place downtown — an area where students are often impaired.

Carter said the same rules apply whether you’re on 6th Street or in West Campus.

“In the last calendar year … there was a number of violent crimes that did occur around the campus area. So there’s no single area in the city where you should feel like you should let your absolute guard down.”

Students often choose to protect themselves using personal safety devices like pepper spray or brass knuckles. When it comes to these tools, it’s essential that you train yourself to use them properly.

“If you’re going to have a legal means to protect yourself, you need to make sure you understand how it works and also the limitations of it,” Carter said. “Recognize that any kind of self defense mechanism can be at times used against a person.”

While you can’t always control the actions of other people, you can control the actions you take when going out at night. Don’t trust that these new safety measures will protect you — trust yourself.

Springs is a government and political communication sophomore from Dallas.