In response to a series of robberies near campus, UT Police Department squad cars stationed in West Campus will keep their red and blue lights on at night to deter crime by making cops more visible.
These efforts are meant to bring peace of mind to West Campus dwellers, but enhancing the visibility of squad cars can exacerbate the stress that many students already feel due to increased police presence. For this reason, UTPD must turn their red and blue lights off at night.
“It does more harm than it does good,” said Earl Potts, a computer science and African and African diaspora studies junior. “For me and other Black students, it’s a big source of anxiety seeing the lights — especially while driving at night. It’s very scary.”
Potts was one of the dozens of students who condemned this practice on Twitter in response to a UTPD tweet announcing its implementation on Nov. 7. When UTPD assistant chief of police Peter Scheets was informed about these complaints, he said it was the first time he’s heard of concerns about the display of squad car lights.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, but we welcome hearing from members of the community if they have concerns or if this activity causes issues,” Scheets said.
Moverover, Sheets said this practice is not intended to make students feel threatened.
“(The goal) was to make the community feel reassured that we are out there because frequently we hear, ‘I haven’t seen any police officers. I’m concerned,’” Scheets said.
However, according to Cerena Ermitanio, an international relations and global studies senior, the decision to make police more visible at night brings distress, not reassurance.
“I think the presence of cops is really distressing to a lot of students, including myself as a woman of color, because police in general tend to target minority students,” Ermitanio said. “Presenting as a woman of color … (I feel) a sense of alarm knowing that I can be targeted by cops that are more visible now.”
While some students and parents believe having police keep their lights on at night will deter crime in West Campus, this undermines the security of Black students, according to Potts.
“I want to stress the anxiety that Black students have around the police,” Potts said. “A lot of the time, people will say, ‘Oh, they have anxiety, but it’s not bad enough where we have to compromise safety.’ But that kind of anxiety takes a toll on people, especially students that are living around campus.”
UTPD’s decision to implement this practice in the first place reflects a clear disconnect between the police department and the University’s diverse student body. It’s unacceptable to continue the use of red and blue lights at night when students feel threatened because of it. The increased presence of police in West Campus is already enough to deter crime, and UTPD’s decision works against their goal of reassuring the community.
“If we’re doing something that’s causing concern for a member of the community, we are certainly going to look at the practice and reassess,” Scheets said.
It’s time for UTPD to follow through on that promise and turn off their red and blue lights at night.
Harwood is a public health freshman from Houston, TX.