Thirteen new officers for the UT Police Department started their field training Monday as part of the department’s plan to increase the number of officers on staff.
With this addition, UTPD now has 91 officers on the force out of the 99 they are authorized to staff. Up until 2013, UTPD was allowed a maximum of 67 officers.
The push for more officers started when Chief David Carter took over the department in 2013. Since then, he has worked to raise the number of officers the department is authorized to staff as a way to increase UTPD’s visibility both on campus and in the surrounding areas.
“(This addition) means we’ll have more visibility,” UTPD Lt. Jose Peña said. “We’ll have more people out walking, on bike and also patrolling in the vehicles.”
The 13 officers graduated from the UT System Police Academy on May 26 and will now be working with a Police Training Officer during the next 16 weeks of field training.
Peña will be overseeing the new officers during the next 16 weeks as coordinator of the Police Training Officer program.
“It’s an excellent opportunity,” Carter said. “When you have a large group of new officers, obviously that’s a challenge to bring them up to speed, but it’s also an opportunity to orient them to how to best serve our community.”
In addition to the 13 graduates from the Academy, four officers will join UTPD by the end of the month as lateral transfers, or individuals who have previous experience in law enforcement. The department is hoping to hire another four lateral transfers, putting the total number of officers at 99, but it’s not clear when that will happen, Peña said.
UTPD Captain Gonzalo Gonzalez said that in September, UTPD will be authorized for 100 officers.
“We’re always looking for staffing models that help us increase our numbers on the street,” Gonzalez said. “It all goes back to being visible, being proactive as much as you can.”
Joell McNew, co-founder and vice president of the parent-led safety organization SafeHorns, likes the idea of more officers on and around campus as a way to make the campus safer.
McNew said UTPD has put a lot of energy into programs like Be Safe, which focuses on safety from an educational standpoint, but the new officers will improve safety in a more hands-on way.
“The No. 1 thing that I hear from students is they want to see infrastructure change,” McNew said. “The educational portion is fine, but they want to see real change. Having more officers is definitely a good start.”
One of the new officers, Vlad Zenchenko, said the concept of visibility has been encouraged during his training.
“I know visibility is big,” Zenchenko said. “From what I’ve heard from relayed to me from the head officers is they want us to be visible, and that’s being implemented in the way that we go through the day.”
Zenchenko said he has worked with law enforcement in some capacity in most of his other jobs in the past. He said UTPD was the logical next step as he’s figuring out his career.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity,” Zenchenko said. “I’m looking forward to whatever is to come in the next few years.”