Off-campus housing safety a community concern, says UTPD

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A continuous trend of theft and violence in off-campus housing has raised questions about the safety of students who choose not to live on campus.
Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Dialogue concerning off-campus housing security has increased following the Sigma Chi shooting Sunday morning, in addition to burglaries at Dobie Twenty21 and other apartment complexes in the West Campus area last spring. 

In March, a security breach at Dobie Twenty21 involved a man posing as a construction worker who broke into a unit, stealing a student’s laptop, backpack, headphones, room keys and wallet. Since then, Dobie Twenty21 leasing agent Kayte Stein said no security changes have been made.

“At night we have the security officers that sit at the desk on patrols all throughout the night from 11 to 8 a.m.,” Stein said. Guards check students’ identification during these late night and early morning hours, a policy that was already in place before the burglary.

UT Police Department Officer Robert Land explained the structure of off-campus dorms like Dobie is more secure than residential dorms, but leaving doors unlocked negates this advantage. During the burglary in March, Dobie’s locks were in the process of being changed.

“There are some really good security features in places like Dobie, because they’ve got those same solid-core doors we’ve got in the dorms,” Land said. “There are some good security features there and all over the dorms on campus, but … it definitely feels different out there in some of those other places.”

Student organizations, off-campus dorms and apartment complexes tend to hire private security companies to ensure the safety of their respective facilities, with differing standards and protocols relative to the buildings they patrol. In the case of Sigma Chi, security guard Edward Earls was unarmed when the shooting took place.

“They had a disturbance at the event where [the shooter] was escorted out and asked to leave and there was a scuffle that ensued there,” UTPD assistant chief Peter Scheets said. “That was certainly an opportunity at that point for them to call the police … it wouldn’t have escalated to where it was at. That was my only disappointment.”

Verbal threats made by Daniel Hamilton Magee at the Sigma Chi shooting, including vowing to “shoot up the place” with his AK-47, constituted enough reason to call 911, which Scheets said is a phone number that shouldn’t only be reserved for physical emergencies.

Underage drinking and illegal drug use are activities that sometimes characterize college social life, an issue that makes the relative ease of dialing 911 a more complicated act. Students may feel uncertain of whether they should reach out to police if they themselves are engaged in illegal activity, even if he or she is in danger.

“It’s frustrating to me,” Scheets said. “I understand the students’ concerns. I was a student … I did things that I didn’t want the police around, but the only way for us to understand each other is to have a dialogue.”

A desire for a stronger community focus is something both Scheets and Land emphasized in spite of illegal activity of minors that might create barriers for students between themselves and law enforcement.

“Community safety is a community concern — it’s not [just] a police concern,” Scheets said.

This story has been updated since its initial publication. The last quote was edited to accurately reflect UTPD assistant chief Peter Scheets' meaning.