Reported crimes in multiple categories have steadily decreased in the last three years at UT, according to the 2016 Clery Annual Security and Fire Safety Report released by the University over a week ago. A few notable exceptions include an increase in rapes on on-campus student housing locations, from four in 2014 to nine in 2015, and a slight bump in car thefts on campus. Nearly every other category of reported crime decreased, with the number of reported liquor law violations seeing the most dramatic downturn.
UTPD assistant chief Peter Scheets credits the decrease in crime to greater engagement among police officers, students and UT staff.
“I think that the reduction in crime is a community function,” Scheets said. “We have been leaning toward a more community oriented policing approach at the University. The increased communication … helps us identify and respond to situations that can turn into criminal activity.”
Geography junior Madison Holloway, a west campus resident, said she feels out of harm’s way both on and off campus, even in light of last semester’s homicide.
“I feel like they’re doing a lot to ensure people are safe, especially since last spring,” Holloway said. “With SURE Walk being expanded and everything, I feel like that’s such a good thing.”
The collaboration between citizens and police officers is essential to UTPD’s ability to address crime, Scheets said. People accustomed to the University’s grounds and atmosphere, such as students or building managers, may be more familiar with their surroundings, enabling them to better detect any abnormalities or potential criminal behavior.
Oftentimes a UT staff member will tip an officer off with information that leads to the arrest of individuals with burglary or theft warrants, Scheets said. He added this kind of cooperative interaction can drive down crime statistics.
“We are trained to be suspicious, the public is not. So if they find something suspicious, it’s given much more credence,” Scheets said. “The way a police presence can work to deter crime is if it’s persistent. It has to be out there day after day, it has to be at a regular interval, it has to be visible.”
As for trends, Scheets said UTPD’s crime prevention unit hones in on areas of campus that exhibit higher numbers of criminal incidents and aim to individually address specific types of crime. There isn’t a consistent up or down pattern, but Scheets said he hopes last year’s numbers will indicate a reduction in future crimes.
“I don’t think we’re ever gonna completely eliminate crime from any jurisdiction, but I haven’t seen the numbers where it’s driven down, it plateaus, and [doesn’t] go any further,” Scheets said.
Finance senior Andrew Enenmoh said he has witnessed an increased number of police officers in west campus, and believes crime has declined in recent years, in accordance with the Clery report.
“I’d say in general it’s decreased; I haven’t gotten as many emails about aggravated robbery or other crimes in the area,” Enenmoh said. “It’s the less emails that I’ve received, less word of mouth that I’ve heard in comparison to the last few years.”
The presence of police officers, which increased beginning in 2014 with the UTPD bike patrol and later with foot and vehicle patrols, is the second component to Scheet’s formula for reducing crime. Most crime is predictable, Scheets said. He said theft of personal devices is something students can be on the lookout for since they spend longer amounts of time observing the behavior of their colleagues than do police.
“The gold standard for suspicion isn’t a police officer with a risen suspicion standard. It is a community member and their feeling that a behavior or activity is suspicious,” Scheets said.