The amount of violent crimes on UT campus stayed about the same in 2014, whereas violent crimes in the Austin area rose by 15 percent, according to the FBI’s violent crimes report.
Although the official number of violent crimes on campus jumped from four instances to eight instances, the increase is attributed to the higher number of reported rapes on campus, from one instance in 2013 to six instances in 2014. UTPD Lieutenant Charles Bonnett said this increase would partially be attributed to an expansion of the federal definition of rape that occurred in 2014. Without factoring in the reported rapes, the number of violent crimes did not change significantly, according to the report.
“What they have done is take out the parts that say physical force has to be used because sexual assault does not necessarily mean that someone is using physical force or threatening you with a weapon,” Bonnet said. “It can be a chemical or alcohol manipulation or threats or any number of ways that someone can coerce another person into have a sexual interaction that is unwanted. The definition has been expanded to better capture what sexual assault really is.”
The increase in reported rapes can also be attributed to the success of sexual assault awareness campaigns led by students organizations and Voices Against Violence on campus, according to Paul Liebman, University Compliance Services officer.
UTPD’s crime prevention department has worked closely with the community over the past year to educate students and faculty about measures to prevent violent crimes on campus, Bonnet said.
“UTPD has really tried to partner with the University campus to use a community policing program to combat crime,” Bonnet said. “We have done a good part to educate the community and surrounding area on what we are doing and why we are here. There are programs on how to walk to and from places on and off campus, rape aggression defense, what to do if someone comes in and there is an active shooter in your workplace or classroom.”
Linguistics junior Mackenzie Summers said she did not feel less safe in Austin over the past year, although she does feel safer on campus than in other areas of the city.
“I didn’t feel less safe than previous years,” Summers said. “But I definitely feel more safe on campus than elsewhere in Austin. Campus is very well-lit, and there is usually a stronger police presence on campus.”
Bonnett said UTPD’s strength lies in the university community’s perception of the department’s officers.
“It comes down to some of the partnerships that we have put in place,” Bonnett said. “One of our main concerns is to be visible and to be approachable and that is what our officers strive to because when people see us and feel comfortable talking to us, that leads to people reporting more crime to us.”