West Campus security improvements delayed further, Walter Webb Hall substation to open soon

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Photo Credit: Sierra Wiggers | Daily Texan Staff

Security improvements in West Campus that were set to be near complete by the first day of the fall semester continue to be delayed due to the pandemic, UT Police Chief David Carter said.

Last semester, the UT System Board of Regents granted $8 million to the UT Police Department to make security improvements in areas around West Campus. These included a new police substation in Walter Webb Hall, a security camera system and 13 additional officers. 

“Our target initially was the beginning of class, and we know that it’s not going to happen,” Carter said. “For now, I don’t have enough information to give. … With the way things are working, we hope to have progress before the end of the fall semester.”

Carter said that the timeline for each of the security improvements would hopefully be released in the coming weeks. 

The substation will be available in a few weeks for students to file reports and communicate safety concerns with UTPD. The substation will have limited business hours that are still being finalized as of Aug. 18. 

UTPD has already selected the cadets they wish to hire as officers, but the academy postponed training planned for this summer due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Travis County, Carter said. 

The HALO security camera system is also still going through the University’s purchasing process, which has likely been slowed due to the pandemic, Carter said.

“In my experience, everything has been slowed down (by the pandemic),” Carter said. “The important thing is that the original plan is still in play. The funds have been identified, part of the cadets have been hired, so we just need to have these processes approved before we can start.”

Joell McNew, president for SafeHorns, a nonprofit UT safety advocacy program, said building a better relationship between UTPD and the community through some of these improvements is an “excellent start” to keeping West Campus safe. 

McNew said she is concerned about safety in West Campus when the Austin Police Department’s budget was cut by nearly 35% after Austin City Council approved the city’s annual budget on Aug. 13.

“Looking at different safety initiatives like the HALO cameras and the partnership between the community and law enforcement, which is UTPD and APD, we just want to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact the quality of life for students,” McNew said.

Carter said that the defunding of APD would not impact the progress of their West Campus security improvements plan because the funds have already been received and allocated. He said West Campus is still under the jurisdiction of APD, and the security improvements are meant to help APD keep West Campus safe.

Electrical and computer engineering senior Janine Bariuan has lived in West Campus for three years. She said she feels endangered because of frequent crime notifications in West Campus from a crime-tracking app called Citizen.

“One time me, and my roommate saw someone jump the gate into my apartment and (steal) a bike,” Bariuan said. “We saw him break the lock and exit with it. (It) was really scary to actually see someone break into your apartment and steal something. It’s small things like that that make you feel even more unsafe.”