AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas Board of Regents approved $8 million in funding on Thursday for public safety and security in West Campus.
President Greg Fenves says it’s because of an uptick in violent crime in Austin in recent months. The changes will include hiring 11 more UT police officers and two more police sergeants. Fenves says the money will also pay for investments in cameras, vehicles and equipment.
“It’s a long time coming, and it’s a fantastic start,” said SafeHorns President Joell McNew. SafeHorns is an organization made up of parents who are advocating for campus safety improvements.
Security measures that’ll be added
UTPD Chief David Carter spoke with KXAN Friday and outlined how the funding will be used.
In addition to the aforementioned 13 officers, UTPD will now be able to:
- Open a substation on Guadalupe Street at Walter Webb Hall
- Create a HALO camera system in West Campus
- Make West Campus a UTPD patrol district
“It’s clear we need additional police presence in those areas where people are walking,” Carter explained.
According to Carter, if you look at the data, the crime numbers in West Campus have not spiraled out of control, but looking at the citywide trend, he said, “Violent crime has, in fact, gone up across the city.”
That’s why he wants to be proactive. He said by making West Campus one of UTPD’s patrol districts, UT officers can be assigned to the neighborhood. They can be easily available to answer calls and help students as needed.
“We’re not here to replace APD or to assume their responsibility to police the City of Austin, but basically enhance their capacity,” Carter said. “Police presence matters.”
Carter said, for now, he can staff the new district using overtime. Once the new funding officially kicks in, he’ll be able to use the newly-hired officers.
Carter told KXAN some officer candidates are ready to start the Academy as early as next month.
Additionally, Carter wants to introduce a new camera system for West Campus similar to the HALO camera that exist in downtown Austin. He hopes to have six new cameras installed by summer 2020.
Calls for security improvements around UT’s campus intensified after Austin repealed its homeless camping ban last Summer. The city now allows homeless camping, sitting and lying in certain public places.
“We have not experienced tent camps necessarily, setting up on the Drag,” Carter said. “The goal is we don’t want to be reactive here. The fact that crime is going up around the city, I don’t want to wait until crime has gone up.”
The changes are welcome news to students wanting safety improvements.
“You see the same officers patrolling around campus. You just feel like UT is one big family and they’re part of that family,” said Emily Crone, a UT student who’s a member of Horns for Safety. It’s a student group that advocates for on- and off-campus safety measures.
“I think students will feel safer, but that doesn’t take away all the crime that happens in West Campus, so I think students need to be aware of their surroundings,” Crone said.