Four Texas State students were arrested last Wednesday during a protest on their campus. Similarly, UT saw multiple protests last week, and each time, the UT Police Department was standing by.
UTPD does not engage at these protests unless there is a real security concern, Captain Chris Bonnet said.
Each UTPD officer participates in mandatory and supplemental training on de-escalating situations using verbal skills and active listening, Bonnet said. Officers will not step in unless there is a critical threat to safety or a security concern.
“We really only get involved after individuals will disregard the instructions of University officials,” Bonnet said. “It comes down to us interacting with the students on a daily basis. That sets the tone for how we interact with the students during a peaceful assembly or some kind of protest activity.”
Bonnet said UTPD is content-neutral. Regardless of what a group is saying, as long as it is not illegal, they are there to protect students who want to peacefully protest and observe the event.
“We’re just there to make sure that everyone has a right to engage in protected activities,” Bonnet said. “Chief (David) Carter — one of the parts of his mission for us on these things is to defend the (First Amendment). The Constitution applies to everybody equally, whether they’re a student or not.”
Police officers in Texas are known as Peace Officers. Bonnet said they take the job seriously of keeping the peace, so it’s important to start with the officers who are part of their team.
“It starts with recruiting and training folks who we think are going to be a good fit for our team and for our community,” Bonnet said. “Somebody who is comfortable interacting with students.”
Delaney Davis, government and Spanish junior, said she has observed multiple student protests on campus. Davis said she feels safe during these events, and she understands why UTPD is at protests and events.
“I think that we’re a college campus and … people definitely have a right to free speech,” Davis said. “I think the First Amendment is something important that should be protected, but I think there is a line between that and hate speech.”
Hana Arriaga, international relations and global studies sophomore, said she believes police monitoring during protests is essential because UT is massive. Students should still be able to participate fully in protests, Arriaga said.
“Being at college is a very transformative time in our lives as students,” Arriaga said. “I think being able to voice our opinions in a safe environment is essential to having that full college experience.”
Bonnet is a UT alumnus and said he was able to engage in various protests and speeches when he was a student. This is one of the main reasons he wanted to work at UT, Bonnet said.
“I know I speak for a lot of the department when I say we want young people today to continue to be engaged in what’s going on in our country, and we want them to do so in a peaceful and respectful way,” Bonnet said.