The University of Texas Police Department is strengthening its response team to better address emergency situations and maintain a safe campus.
UT Police Department Chief Robert Dahlstrom said the department, which responds to all emergency situations reported on campus and in UT buildings around the city, is adding three dispatchers to ensure it is adequately staffed.
“Seconds count in an emergency situation,” Dahlstrom said. “This is all about first responders getting there and addressing the situation as quickly as they can.”
The Austin American-Statesman reported last month the Austin Police Department has placed an increasing number of callers on hold this year because its call center is understaffed. Dahlstrom said not all people who attempt to work as dispatchers are equipped to work the long hours and remain calm while handling emergency situations.
“People call in at some of their most vulnerable times,” he said. “You have to calm them down, get the right information from them and get the police officers responding, so it’s a combination that requires a lot of multitasking.”
Students can report emergency situations to UTPD by dialing 911 when on campus or by using one of the 120 emergency call boxes located around the University. Dahlstrom said supervisors monitor and review emergency calls to make sure dispatchers properly review callers’ needs.
“Our goal is to try to get people the help they need as quick as we can,” he said. “Putting callers on hold can cause problems but at the same time, everyone has to work within their means and do the best they can with the resources they have.”
Dahlstrom said the department is usually able to answer all emergency calls, but they are forwarded to APD dispatchers if the University’s lines are busy. The UT Police Department has not encountered any issues addressing emergency situations as a result of the Austin Police Department not responding to calls in time, he said.
“I know the Austin Police Department is doing the best they can with the staffing they have,” Dahlstrom said. “Call loads vary, and you can never have enough people to handle every type of situation.”
Michael Lauderdale, social work professor and Austin Public Safety Commission Chair, said he feels University police work well with the Austin Police Department to maintain campus safety.
“I think the interface between the departments is very good,” Lauderdale said. “I would say it is a very complex issue handling emergencies because not all students live on campus, but I’m certainly impressed with their work.”
Pre-nursing sophomore Nuttida Aimsila said as a student living on campus, she feels it is the police department’s responsibility to keep the environment safe.
“I think the more people they have to cover situations, the better,” Aimsila said.