UTPD must release, publicize allegation records

Rayne Daniel

On April 13, 2017, UTPD Police Chief David Carter announced a new commitment to transparency and accountability for campus law enforcement with the implementation of body cameras for all on-duty officers. Statistics of complaints and allegations filed against the department since 2017 are also published on UTPD’s website, marking a critical step in the fight for fairness and justice for all students. 

Yearly, complaint and allegation statistics are compiled and listed by informant type: students, faculty, staff, citizens or internal, and separated into sustained, not sustained, unfounded, exonerated or withdrawn.

However, beyond plain figures, nothing is known about these allegations. To improve transparency, UTPD should release additional details surrounding the nature of these allegations. At the very least, UTPD should advertise the process of obtaining these records so we can hold officers accountable and let concerned students know exactly who is patrolling their campus. 

I’ve never feared the police. My privilege as a white American has plagued me with ignorance to the reality of police violence and brutality in our country. The current political climate and acts of violence against the Black community have served as an abrupt awakening to this entitlement. It’s shown me that we all have a duty to consistently challenge the department’s definition of transparency and accountability. 

In 2019, UTPD reported zero complaints or allegations by UT students, faculty or staff. The numbers in 2018, however, were very different, with 29 total complaints and allegations against UTPD, six of which were reported by students and staff. 

Three of the four student allegations were not sustained, meaning UTPD claimed insufficient evidence to prove the allegation. The fourth allegation was unfounded, meaning an internal investigation deemed the allegation not factual.

Presumption of innocence is a key part of our democracy, and those accused of crimes have a constitutional right to privacy. However, it’s more difficult to maintain trust between students and officers when all other details of these allegations require an official request. 

“One would have to file an open records request to receive those details,” said Don Verett, UTPD assistant chief of police and chief of staff.

Submitting an open records request can be done online by registering an account with the Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs. But the lack of available information about the process can discourage students from pursuing details of these allegations. 

“I don’t believe (requiring an official request) is promoting blissful ignorance … we receive multiple requests every week,” Verett said. “Context is important … information without context can raise more questions than answers.”  

Some students feel that they have to jump through hoops to gain access to these records. 

“I don’t know what the privacy laws are for officers, but I would feel much better if there was more transparency within UT police,” biology senior Anna Kurtin said. “There should definitely be a place on their website with specific details about allegations, showing the department is completely open to the public.” 

The possibility of misinterpretation is not an excuse to hide information from students. 

“If I had found out (an officer was accused of racial profiling, excessive force or sexual harassment), I would be disappointed, but not surprised,” Kurtin said. “If I ever saw that officer, I definitely wouldn’t feel safe around him. I would be more inclined to believe the student.” 

Without question, students deserve to feel safe on campus. They also deserve to be familiar with the process of pursuing details of allegations against those strolling their campus with weapons. 

UTPD must release this information, or at a minimum, publicize students’ rights to these records. It’s time to foster an informed campus and extended Longhorn community. 

Daniel is a biomedical engineering and French senior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.