UT Citizen Police Academy educates students, faculty on personal protection

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University of Texas Police Department and Austin Police Department SUVs parked on campus.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Citizen Police Academy, a program that recruits students and faculty for a semester-long training in police work, marks its 10th anniversary with the beginning of a weekly series of three-hour classes starting Oct. 3.

Classes are free and open to the public, and cover topics ranging from fingerprint lifting to the K-9 unit.

The initiation of UTPD’s CPA was brought on by a desire to counter stereotypes that are often barriers to meaningful discussion between cops and civilians, UTPD Lt. Gregory
Stephenson said.

“It makes for a great chance for the police department to reach out to the people we serve,” Stephenson said. “I see a lot of people who take the class end up networking within UT and develop relationships.”

The CPA provides an outlet for members of the UT community to voice their concerns. For Stephenson, bicycle theft wasn’t a major issue until he arrived at UTPD and took part in community engagement through the CPA.

“When I was a college student and had a bike stolen, it was no big deal because it was a cheap bike that I had gotten just for around campus,” Stephenson said. “But one thing I’ve learned here is that for a lot of students, that is their primary form of transportation.”

Bike thefts, in addition to overall safety concerns, tend to dominate the conversation during the program. Many participants aren’t actually students but are staff and even non-UT community members, Stephenson said.

CVS store manager Jessica Blair, who works at the location near the University Co-op, said taking part in a program that provides safety guidelines could be beneficial.

“If we know how we can help, that’ll help across the board instead of us always being scared or not knowing how to handle certain situations on both ends — [for the] homeless and for the students,” Blair said.

Transient individuals who enter the store asking for money from students can introduce an unwelcome set of circumstances that Blair said she and her staff wish to avoid.

This concern comes in the midst of a rigorous Department of Public Safety audit. The audit only included on-campus areas but did address the homeless population as a key aspect of its evaluation.

“I see parents and new students getting harassed by people begging for things,” Blair said. “That’s a concern to me because sometimes those people aren’t so nice, and it creates a
hostile environment.”

The program was founded in 2006 by Capt. Don Verett to address such concerns after studying the community-centered focus of CPA programs.

“I was in the Higher Education Administration Master’s program at the time and wrote a paper on CPAs,” Verett said in a 2013 interview with The Daily Texan. “I thought UTPD and the University would benefit from having our own CPA.”

Establishing a healthy environment is a goal the CPA seeks to accomplish by developing a relationship with individuals such as Blair, who may not be students, but who operate businesses that cater to the UT community.

Stephenson said APD also conducts a CPA program, but UT’s program is more personal.

“We’re both going to tell you the same thing about the Texas Penal Code, but here it’s more like getting to know your neighbor,” Stephenson said. “The better I know my community, the better they know me, the better I can do my job to serve and protect.”