Union building

Employees of the Union Building are reviewing building policies after an argument Tuesday evening between two homeless men escalated to physical violence.

Claudette Campbell, assistant director of operations and hospitality at the Union Building, said the Union has an all-hours building monitor who responds to emergency situations and calls emergency services when necessary. 

“We have protocol that we have developed through the years, and normally it’s observing the area,” Campbell said. “And, if there is any doubt that somebody is not being secure or is doing something improper, always call UTPD.”

The investigation surrounding the incident is still ongoing, but Campbell said UTPD assured her the two individuals involved in the incident knew each other and no one else in the building was a target.

The second floor of the Union Building, where the incident occurred, is open to the public until 10 p.m. every evening. After 10 p.m., access is restricted to UT students, faculty and staff.

“Our main goal is to make the building safe for students,” Campbell said. “If we’re going to be open until 3 in the morning, we want students to be in the building.”

Despite Tuesday’s incident, biology junior Sharon Joseph said she still feels safe studying at the Union and has never had any issues before.

“I guess when I first [heard] about it, I was like, ‘That’s really close to home,’” Joseph said. “I always walk by here, and I could have seen that. I feel like, overall, our campus is really good at having [police around] … but it’s cool that they put a lot of effort into trying to keep us safe.”

Campbell said the Union has a strong relationship with officers from UTPD. 

Gonzalo Gonzalez, UTPD patrol division captain, said officers respond as quickly as possible but want students to notify UTPD if a situation arises during the building’s public hours.

“We rely on people in the building to call us [and] tell us if there’s someone who was asked to leave … or if there’s some concerning behavior,” Gonzalez said. 

Campbell said officers also patrol the building after hours to make sure members of the University community can safely approach the building in the morning. 

“I would encourage students to use not just our building, but the other University Union buildings [and] to always be diligent,” Campbell said. “If they see something … definitely let us know.” 

Campbell said student feedback played an integral role in closing the building to the public between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and hopes students will continue to give feedback.

Over the past six years, the Union Building, along with the Student Activity Center, Jester Center, Webb Hall and the Perry-Castaneda Library, has been the site of more criminal trespassing violations than any other building on campus. These buildings are particularly vulnerable because of heavy foot traffic and the likelihood of unattended belongings. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

UT officials face a difficult trade-off between the safety and accessibility of campus buildings, according to Bob Harkins, the associate vice president of Campus Safety and Security.

UTPD crime statistics show that, in the past six years, criminal trespassing was reported most frequently in Webb Hall, the Union Building, the Student Activity Center, Jester Center and the Perry-Castaneda Library.

Harkins said most facilities, while not public, are generally open to the public during daytime hours, meaning anyone can access UT buildings when they are open.

“If you live around here, you understand that there are a lot of people that hang out around places,” Harkins said. “Only when they’re in an area they’re not authorized to be in after hours, or they’re creating some type of a nuisance, do we then approach them.”

UTPD Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez said higher criminal trespass rates for Webb Hall and the Union Building could be a result of the buildings’ locations.

“They’re right next to Guadalupe Street,” Gonzalez said. “I can tell you that’s why I would guess those two would be on the list.”

Harkins said campus buildings attract homeless individuals because they provide clean water, food and a break from the weather.

Buildings such as the Union, the SAC and the PCL are heavily populated with students, who sometimes leave their belongings unattended, making them vulnerable to theft.

“People will tend to lay down personal property and walk away from it, then we’ve got the threat of thefts that we’re trying to balance out all the time,” Harkins said.

Laurie Lentz, communications manager for Campus Planning & Facilities Management, said while criminal trespassing does not frequently interfere with the management of buildings, trespassers occasionally cause disruption for custodial services personnel.

“It’s sort of episodic — things will happen occasionally and it’ll be kind of a mess, but there’s no really consistent pattern with it other than that typically what’s affected are the restrooms,” Lentz said. “Generally, it would be homeless people using UT restrooms to clean up and they may leave paper towel waste on the floor or splash a lot of water around, and then the custodial team will need to come clean it up.”

Campus Safety and Security is working to install electronic access locks in all campus buildings. Currently, 64 of the 238 main campus buildings are equipped with these locks, which require a UT ID card for entry.

“What those do is they give us the capability to provide a safer environment for students that are studying late in small groups or even by themselves,” Harkins said. “We’re moving through campus as quickly as we can to get more funding to be able to do more of the buildings.”