AUSTIN (KXAN) — A campus-wide survey of students, faculty and staff found 75% of respondents feel safe and secure at the University of Texas at Austin.
The online survey conducted every two years by The University of Texas at Austin Police Department received more than 4,500 responses. The survey found 65% of respondents agreed UTPD could handle a safety crisis, and 77% felt comfortable reporting crime to the department.
“We’re always trying to improve and always trying to do better,” Acting UTPD Chief of Police Don Verett said.
When asked about locations on campus with the most safety concern, 87% of respondents chose parking garages and parking lots with the primary fear in the area being assault.
“With COVID, there’s a lot less traffic in the garages, so people tend to feel more alone. People aren’t showing up to work at the same time where you can walk in groups.” Verett said. “One of the other things they’ve said they’re afraid of is assault. That really happens very, very infrequently in the garages.”
UTPD reviewed the results with the Office of Campus Safety, which oversees lighting on campus and Parking and Transportation services, and will begin allocating more officers to the garage areas with hours starting earlier in the morning and extending into the evening.
Verett said UTPD wanted to get a tool familiar with the students and launched a free app called LiveSafe at UT Austin in September 2020. The app allows students to request help, report anonymously, upload photos and videos and virtually walk with friends. The survey found 63% of respondents did not know about the app.
Off campus, the UT community expresses concerns with assault, theft/vandalism, transient crime and outdoor lighting and infrastructure in the survey.
In February 2020, the UT Board of Regents approved $8 million in funding for public safety and security in West Campus, an area heavily populated by college students. This fund was spent opening a substation on Guadalupe Street at Walter Webb Hall, creating a HALO system in West Campus and making West Campus a UTPD patrol district.
For this patrol district, UTPD hired 11 officers and two sergeants that will have a full-time presence on bike, car and foot.
“We never want to forget our students that live on Riverside or graduate students who live up in the Far West area. We traverse those areas, but we don’t regularly patrol those areas.” Verett said. “There’s so much foot traffic on 21st Street and 22nd Street and 24th Street — that’s why we add more emphasis to that.”
UTPD plans to open the substation on Guadalupe Street in the fall. It will operate under business hours, with an emergency call box outside.
Joel McNew, a parent who started the group Safe Horns in the wake of UT student Haruka Weiser’s murder five years ago, said there were crime prevention issues that still needed to be addressed such as lighting and call boxes.
“They told us it would take five years. We’ve not seen improvement, and students are still concerned about lighting,” McNew said.
Lighting and infrastructure were safety concerns mentioned for both on and off campus in this year’s survey, but not two years ago. Verett said officers who work night shifts on campus are told to immediately report lights that are out to facility services. However, Verett said UTPD had no leverage for lighting off campus.
“There’s a very close-working network between all of the law enforcement agencies to share data and to share resources and to help each other when those issues arise. But the university is really prohibited from spending state dollars to fix issues in the City of Austin.” Verett said.
Students, faculty and staff who may have missed the deadline for the survey can submit feedback to UTPD here.