Safehorns: Shooting near UT campus reignites campus safety concerns

Austin

Editor’s Note: An APD watch commander first told KXAN a shots fired call related to this shooting came in at 10:40 p.m. Sunday. On Monday afternoon, Austin Police clarified the initial information. APD said that “shots fired” call at 10:40 p.m. turned out to be fireworks. The second call, related to the shooting, came in at 11:21 p.m., putting APD officer response time at 10 minutes. APD said the two calls were assigned the same incident number, which caused confusion.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The president of the parent and community group Safehorns, which advocates for better safety at and around the University of Texas, said Longhorn students are becoming “desensitized” to crime due to its frequency near campus.

Austin Police to responded to a shooting on 22nd and Pearl Street late Sunday night and are still looking for suspects.

The University of Texas Police Department told KXAN Monday afternoon that five of its officers arrived at 11:46 p.m. after its dispatch heard the call on APD’s radio.

Austin-Travis County EMS said medics took the man to the hospital. While his injuries are serious, they aren’t expected to be life-threatening. Officials say they do not believe he is affiliated with the University of Texas.

Safehorns President Joell McNew called for better lighting and more cameras on and around campus.

“We’re asking for the lighting to meet standards, we’re asking for HALO cameras, we’re asking for cameras for businesses to work with APD so they can link in real-time and see what’s happening in the area to support them on their calls,” McNew said. “We are asking for blue light call boxes.”

The Safehorns group was formed in the wake of the murder of UT freshman Haruka Weiser in 2016 and has long advocated for campus improvements like these, including working with the city on a lighting study. In 2020, the UT Board of Regents approved funding to create a HALO camera system and UTPD substation in West Campus, among other steps.

McNew is also asking for students to advocate for safety improvements. In addition to reaching out to city leaders, she wants them to sign a petition calling for better safety measures in the West Campus neighborhood.

“You’ve got to be aware that this is an urban environment, and the city council does not prioritize public safety, so you must be responsible for our own safety. You have to watch out for each other, and you have to speak up,” she said.

Confusion over campus notifications

McNew said one aspect of Sunday’s shooting that caused confusion for students and parents was the notification process. UTPD sent out an alert around 12:26 a.m. to campus about the shooting that provided information about the timing of the shooting, location, injury information and a description of the suspect vehicle.

McNew said new information “wasn’t relayed” in a timely manner after that so some students were sheltering in place and waiting on an update.

Noelle Newton, a spokesperson for the department, said it was busy working on “rumor control” Monday morning. She said the department waited to see if there were any updates from APD and then sent out another update around 8:30 a.m. with information about UTPD staying in the area and providing courtesy escorts to anyone who wanted them. It sent another message at noon specifying “there has not been a campus lockdown and there is currently no active threat to campus” in response to hearing there were still students thinking it was an active threat, Newton explained.

While UTPD responded because it was near the university, it acts more as a support as West Campus falls under APD’s jurisdiction, Newton said. And, technically, the email, Tweet and website notifications UT provided “is above and beyond what’s required.”

As a University, UT has to comply with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to notify campuses about crimes. Those requirements are determined by geography (whether they happen on UT-owned properties), crime type and whether there’s an ongoing threat.

Newton pointed out that while city police departments may take more time to investigate and alert the public to crimes, with UTPD, “immediately after a crime occurs, the law requires us to put it out,” even before a full investigation is complete and information is verified.

APD didn’t post on social media about the shooting, but did send a statement clarifying the timeline of the situation to media and UTPD, which it shared out around 2 p.m. It’s not out of the ordinary for APD to not share immediate information about non-deadly investigations.

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