AUSTIN (KXAN) — University of Texas President Jay Hartzell is calling on the school’s police department to increase its patrols in the West Campus area following a shooting there Sunday night.
Austin-Travis County EMS says a man was taken to the hospital with serious injuries after police got a call about a shooting at the intersection of 22nd and Pearl Streets late that night.
In a statement following the incident, Hartzell said:
“The safety of our campus community remains a top priority for the university. In light of recent events, I am directing UTPD to increase its patrol in the west campus area and develop additional options to enhance safety for our students. While this area is the City of Austin’s jurisdiction, we recognize that the best outcomes will stem from a coordinated effort between UTPD, the Austin Police Department and the State Department of Public Safety. Our new efforts will build on the $8 million investment from our Board of Regents to create a campus patrol district, hire new officers, install a network of security cameras, and establish a UTPD west campus satellite office. I appreciate the work of our university law enforcement and the Mental Health Assistance and Response Team, as well as their unwavering commitment to protect our students, faculty, staff, and visitors.”
A spokesperson for UTPD told KXAN the department completed all of its goals set in early 2020 to establish dedicated patrols in West Campus. UT’s Board of Regents approved $8 million for the project.
West Campus is technically in the Austin Police Department’s jurisdiction, however UTPD would previously provide extra resources when it could.
After receiving the funding from the Board of Regents, UTPD established a police patrol district in the West Campus area, hiring 11 new officers and two new sergeants to allow for more flexibility in assigning resources to West Campus, installed HALO cameras to be monitored by the department and created a satellite office known as “UTPD West” on 25th Street where students can check in with police and make reports during daytime hours.
“We have to acknowledge people’s feelings of being unsafe,” said UTPD Acting Chief Don Verett, although he added, “The West Campus area is still technically one of the safest areas in the city of Austin.”
Verett says at a minimum, there are usually three to four officers and a supervisor patrolling the new West Campus district, like other districts.
Local businesses like Lucky Lab Coffee say they’ve noticed quicker response times and more community policing.
“They come and get coffee, they hang out, they get to know the students,” said Courtney Natenstedt, owner of Lucky Lab Coffee. “We see them quite a bit, and they always are here to offer a lot of support and educating the students.”
Verret says now, the department’s going a step further to add more officer presence with overtime hours, “So the criminals know there’s someone there. We’re not trying to hide from them. We want them to know that we’re there, and we want to be visible.”
Last October, the governor ordered DPS to help patrol West Campus. Chief Verret says troopers still do that on a pretty regular basis. He also says UTPD communicates with APD and DPS about West Campus security routinely. APD says staffing shortages have impacted its patrols in all areas of town but couldn’t give an exact number of how many of its officers still patrol the West Campus area, since patrol shifts are divided up into larger sectors.