AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police at the University of Texas at Austin confirmed Tuesday their numbers will increase from 78 to 99 by this fall.
This is the first time the department will reach 99 officers, because this year UT approved an increase of the department’s “authorized strength” to 99. UT Austin Police Chief David Carter said that this growth is necessary as the campus changes.
“When I got here three and a half years ago — summer of 2013 — the University of Texas Police Department was authorized 67 officers, since that time we have grown our authorized strength, now it is 99,” Carter said. “Which is a pretty significant increase over three years, but it was something that was desperately needed for the university.”
The 21 new officers will include 13 cadets and eight law enforcement transfers. Because the positions were already budgeted for, no additional funds will be needed to bring in these new hires.
“The actual territory [of UT] may not be expanding but the density within the territory is certainly expanding,” Carter said, citing expansions like the development of Dell Medical School and the Dell Seton Medical Center.
Carter also noted an increase in calls from neighboring West Campus. UTPD used to patrol five designated districts, now they have grown to six districts on campus and two off-campus. Carter said that the additional UTPD officers will be able to help with some of those off-campus patrols.
“All those things really added up to say our police force was really far too small of the campus,” he said. Carter also noted the 2016 murder of UT student Haruka Weiser placed increased focus on UTPD presence.
“Obviously last year we really had a tragic event on campus, the murder of Haruka really emphasized the point to the University of Texas community at large that police are important and that they need to be visible and approachable out there,” Carter said.
He hopes that having more officers will free up more time for UTPD to connect with their community.
“We don’t want to be call driven, and in some ways today we are call driven,” Carter said. “When you have a call driven organization, you are less likely to actually see a police officer you can talk to or interact with.”
Carter wants his officers on active calls approximately half of the time. Zoe Talbert, a nutrition student at UT, said she thinks this staffing increase will make students more comfortable.
“I think in light of all the things that have happened on campus in the last year, I think having more safety and police presence is always definitely a good idea,” she said.
Halbert said she’d never interacted with campus police before, but she imagines that having more officers on campus would be helpful.
Lewis Bichkoff, a UT MBA student, said he generally feels very safe on campus and that he’s not sure increasing police presence is a good idea. However, Bichkoff likes Chief Carter’s goal to have more community-based policing on campus.
“Getting more integrated with the community, talking with students, making [police] more visible is a good thing,” Bichkoff said. “And building relationships with students and police can only lead to better communication, and if there was ever to be a conflict, better resolution.”
After the department reaches it’s total of 99 officers this fall, Chief Carter said he anticipates asking to expand the number of officers even more in the months and years to come.