UTPD seeks expanded jurisdiction in West Campus

AddThis

Though its name implies a tacit affiliation to UT’s main campus, the area commonly known as West Campus is entirely divorced from the University. For UTPD chief of police David Carter, the disconnect between his primary jurisdiction and the infamously rowdy hotspot across the street needs to be amended. 

“The area known as West Campus is essentially an extension of the main campus,” Carter said. “If I believe there is a crime trend in the area, I want to be able to patrol there.”

UTPD officers have primary jurisdiction on University property, which includes the main campus and off-campus districts like the J.J. Pickle Research Center and University housing for married students. This limits what UTPD can do in an area like West Campus, which is city property.

UTPD's proximity to West Campus facilitates the investigation of incidents in the area and makes them a valued asset to enforcement there, APD and UTPD officials agree.

“We want to help our students if they feel victimized,” Carter said. “We have a population that lives on campus, but the majority live off campus and they’re going back and forth. I would like UTPD to be responsive to our campus community anywhere it might go. I’m committed to taking the resources I have and creating a stronger presence in these areas.”

Carter said he sees the campus community as an organic being, one that flows and shifts rapidly.

“I need to be responsive to that,” Carter said. “It’s more important for a campus police department to be more flexible than others because the community is constantly changing.”

Carter said he remembers a time when issues of jurisdiction were akin to “turf wars” between different law enforcement agencies. 

“Jurisdictional boundaries used to be a big deal. In the past, if the police responded to the city limit and an incident was occuring, they would stop,” Carter said. “Whether the police could have done something to address the incident, they probably could. But they didn’t. Historically, there have been instances where the police have said, ‘well, that’s over there and that’s your problem’.” 

In a post-Sept. 11 society, however, coordination between law enforcement has become commonplace, Carter said. 

Currently, the Austin Police Department has primary jurisdiction in West Campus, also known as their Baker Sector.

UTPD has strong ties with APD, and according to APD Lt. Tyson McGowan, who oversees the region, it’s as if the two departments work in the same office.

However, McGowan said UTPD lacks the resources to police the area according to Carter’s vision but would be in favor of giving the department more jurisdiction in the area. 

“UTPD doesn’t have enough resources to handle that large of a population,” McGowan said. “Even if they are a little closer geographically, given the amount of man power they have, they’d probably need a lot of help. I think coordination between the two is a lot better.”

Although UTPD has seen a steady increase in their personnel since 2007, as of August, the department has only 66 officers on staff. 

In contrast, more than 1,700 officers make up APD, 72 of which are authorized to patrol the area on the daily, APD public information specialist Jennifer Herber said.

“If things that are affecting the campus community are happening two blocks off campus, I need the ability to go and be present there,” Carter said, “but I do not have sufficient resources to fully assume all of APD’s responsibilities off campus.”

Carter said he is assessing staffing and growth within the department but will make the most of resources currently afforded. He said a pay increase for officers enacted in January is a positive step forward. 

“If we identify a crime trend, something that truly affects the physical safety of students, or even in those cases where there is only a perceived trend, those are the things we want analysis on,” Carter said. “If we pick up on those things, it will facilitate the ability to increase our presence in West Campus.”

Correction: In the Sept. 18 article on UTPD’s jurisdiction, several facts were printed incorrectly. UTPD can take legal action in West Campus, even though the area is not in their primary jurisdiction. Also, UTPD currently employs 66 police officers. The number printed in the article pertained to their total personnel.