UTPD halts West Campus security improvements due to COVID-19

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of UTPD | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

The University of Texas Police Department has delayed most West Campus security improvements announced in February until after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

UTPD received $8 million from the UT System Board of Regents for West Campus security improvements to begin this semester due to a citywide increase in crime. Planned improvements included a security camera system, a small police station on Guadalupe Street, a new seventh district under UTPD’s jurisdiction and an increase in officers, according to a Feb. 27 press conference. All will be postponed until after the pandemic, UTPD Chief David Carter said. 

“Our focus right now is strictly on our response to the pandemic and working with our community both on and off-campus to ensure that people understand the gravity of the situation,” Carter said. “UTPD is, in fact, patrolling heavily.”

Carter said with less activity on campus, UTPD has the time to increase patrols in West Campus, but officers have noticed many people are complying with state and city recommendations to stay inside.

UTPD will not arrest people violating social distancing guidelines, but they will advise groups gathered in public to follow state directives to separate, Carter said. 

“We may contact them and let them know that they need to voluntarily comply and abide by the requirements to increase social distance, the physical distance between individuals for the safety of everybody,” Carter said. 

Carter said UTPD officers wear medical masks while on duty and will put on more protective gear, such as N95 masks, gloves and eye protection, if entering a situation where social distancing guidelines can’t be followed. 

“While our plans for West Campus have become delayed because of the pandemic, we still have the opportunity now to be in West Campus,” Carter said.

Some students still living in West Campus have said the empty streets are causing additional anxiety during the pandemic. 

Sebastian Calderon, an Italian and international relations and global studies junior, said the streets of West Campus are eerie after many students have returned home. He said he worries when he takes his dog for walks because there would be no one around to help if he needed it.

“If I need help or if I’m in danger, it’s a lot harder for there to be witnesses or someone to come help,” Calderon said. 

Jacob Blas, a Mexican American and Latina/o studies and rhetoric and writing junior, said he is also scared when he walks his dog. 

“At nighttime, nobody is on the streets and no cars,” Blas said. “If I needed (it), who would I scream (to) for help?”

Carter said they are receiving fewer 911 calls because many students are not in West Campus, but it’s still critical to call 911 in situations where you feel unsafe.

“People staying in gives the appearance that nobody is around,” Carter said. “But I assure you the police are there, APD and UTPD are there. We're patrolling as much as possible to remain visible.”

Both Blas and Calderon said another significant reason for their unease is the chance of being infected when outside their homes. Blas said he sees people ignoring social distancing guidelines and wants businesses to require masks before entering their stores.

“Now that we have all those people that came back from Mexico that tested positive that are in West Campus, it seems like they should be enforcing (social distancing and mask wearing) here in West Campus and in Austin,” Blas said.