UT Police officers to educate community on social distancing guidelines, ask violators to leave campus

Brooke Ontiveros

The UT Police Department will ask people to leave campus if they do not cooperate with mask and social distancing guidelines this fall. 

UTPD will remind students violating mask-wearing and social distancing on-campus of the orders, but the department will not be enforcing city mandates off-campus regarding social distancing and mask-wearing because it is a state-funded agency and does not have the authority, said Peter Scheets, assistant chief of police and chief of operations. 

“If you’re coming into the library or a classroom, and you’re not going to abide by the rules, then we’re going to have to ask you to leave,” Scheets said. “If they don’t leave, then it’s a criminal trespass issue.”

Scheets said zero officers have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. The department will continue to operate under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-directed guidelines for safe work practices that were instituted in the spring.

“The biggest thing operationally we did was to initiate alternate schedules to really minimize the cross contact between the different teams,” Scheets said. 

Officers and staff will primarily work with the same people to minimize exposure, and if someone does test positive, the team will be isolated, Scheets said. Officers can also voluntarily be tested by the University as part of the University’s proactive community testing initiative.

“We are an agency that has been here the entire time, and we are public-facing, so officers, employees and staff in the building are concerned about contracting it and potentially spreading it to their families or communities,” Scheets said. “I think the interest level on getting tested is very high here.”

Zachary Thomsen, an arts and entertainment technologies junior, said he hopes UTPD can act as an authority on mask-wearing guidelines. 

“I am a little afraid that the University will have to shut down just because I have seen a few students already not following social distancing guidelines, and they might ruin it for everybody,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen said it will take a community effort to get the pandemic under control and thinks most students will follow city guidelines.

“There are times when you might forget your mask or you might not realize you are not as distant as you can be, so it's good to have UTPD to give us that reminder,” Thomsen said. “But it's unacceptable to be purposefully not complying with these mandates.”

Biology junior Ethan Meilinger said he wishes UTPD would take more “stringent action” with people who are not wearing masks or social distancing properly because of the danger it poses to at-risk population like his mother, who has an autoimmune disease called scleroderma.

“During quarantine, I literally was not allowed to leave the house for six months,” Meilinger said. “I was only able to walk (outside) to get fresh air, but we never went out or drove anywhere. We always stayed in the house and got everything delivered. I just feel like people do not consider the greater impact they can have on people around them.”