During my time in Austin, I have seen many police bicycle patrols near campus, both Downtown and around the Capitol grounds, by the Austin Police Department and state troopers respectively, but I was surprised that there was not a bike patrol on campus. Many students ride bicycles, and it can be the quickest way around campus, so why not? Last month, the University Police Department launched a new bike patrol. These bike patrols have been used across the nation in other cities and on campuses such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and are an excellent choice for UT Austin because they provide the most efficient means of getting around campus, are more cost effective and environmentally friendly than vehicles and make officers more approachable to students.
While their data may be slightly skewed, Trulia listed the 78712 zip code, which covers most of the UT campus, as one of the five worst zip codes in Austin for crime earlier this year. Their rankings look only at raw numbers of crimes, and as a result, they do not really look into types of crimes. Some of these so-called crimes counted could even be a couple of lunatics dressed as a cat and mouse interrupting classes in Mezes Hall — yes, this happened last month — who were charged with criminal trespassing.
Regardless of the actual crimes being committed on campus, cities such as Chicago have implemented bike patrols with great success. After bike patrols had been active for 14 months in 20 high crime areas, crime dropped by 26 percent throughout the city. Plus, violent crimes such as murders and shootings dropped 50 and 43 percent respectively. The fact that a simple bike patrol works so well elsewhere is a positive sign of the decision to add bike patrols to the 40 Acres. UTPD Police Chief David Carter says the bike patrol will have the flexibility to be deployed to areas of campus and areas west of campus that need extra attention.
A study conducted at Roger Williams University in the mid-2000s compared bike patrols to vehicular patrols. The study found that bike patrols perform just as effectively in most dimensions of patrolling and are even more effective in some dimensions. A few of the highlights of the study are that bike patrol officers are more approachable and build a stronger relationship with the community. This would definitely benefit a college campus where essentially none of us are driving on campus. Also, bike patrol officers are more likely to randomly roll up on illicit activities because they are able to hear their surroundings better than officers inside of cars. It is important to also note the lesser fiscal and environmental impacts bike patrols have compared to vehicles.
While the new bike patrol is made up of only five officers, I have already seen these officers around campus and on the Drag on multiple occasions. As the study suggested, these officers were extremely approachable as I spoke with two officers on one occasion just to hear their thoughts on the new patrol. UTPD does an excellent job both on and off campus, and I look forward to seeing how the bike patrol will provide a safer campus.
Daywalt is a government senior from Copperas Cove. Follow him on Twitter @JohnDaywalt.