UT Police Department

The number of UT Police Department service calls involving the homeless population has increased almost 50 percent since 2015.

Service calls involving the transient population at UT increased from 107 calls in 2015 to 145 calls this year to date, according to KXAN. In 2017, assault dropped below the top three crimes involving the homeless, which are alcohol, drug and trespassing violations.

UTPD captain Gonzalo Gonzalez said the upward trend might be reflective of an increase in people’s willingness to report.

“People are reporting more, and officers are seeing and acting on things more,” Gonzalez said. “We are educating the public more about reporting before posting concerns to social media.”

The UT community should be aware that the numbers include both criminal and non-criminal calls for service, Gonzalez said. Non-criminal calls totaled 54 in 2015, 58 in 2016 and 53 this year to date.

“A non-criminal call could be due to a welfare concern or just someone acting suspicious,” Gonzalez said. “That can include (the homeless) talking to themselves, panhandling, sleeping in public, or it could be call for help if someone is in medical distress.”

Students should not be too concerned about the homeless, Gonzalez said.

“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Gonzalez said. “The homeless is part of the community. I would not be scared of them. We don’t arrest the homeless because they’re poor or hooked on alcohol. We take appropriate actions when they’re a danger to themselves or others. As a parent whose daughter is graduating from UT, I would say beware of your surroundings and call 911 if you see anything suspicious.”

The improvement on reducing crimes involving the transient population has been significant, Gonzalez said.

“You would not recognize the Renaissance Market before 2014,” Gonzalez said. “The difference is night and day. Transients were everywhere. They slept wherever they wanted, they were defecating and urinating in public, and they were more aggressive. When he came to us in 2013, Chief (David) Carter decided to put more force in West Campus. Together, APD and UTPD really cleaned up the area. The homeless problem is not worse for sure.”

The answer to crimes involving the transient population is not within UTPD, Gonzalez said. Other programs such as the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or ARCH, and the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, or MCOT, are trying to help the transient population.

“The answer is from the community,” Gonzalez said. “That includes the University, the county and the city. The city is developing a lot of programs. They have the ARCH downtown. UTPD is forming a partnership with MCOT. If a student wants to help, I would advise them to donate money not directly to the person but to one of these programs.”

Kinesiology sophomore Khalid Saeed said his interactions with the homeless have never been aggressive.

“I walk on Guadalupe Street everyday, and I’ve never been intimidated by them,” Saeed said. “I just feel bad for them.”

Biochemistry sophomore Mai Phan said an increased police presence might be a solution to crimes involving the homeless.

“I think students definitely feel more comfortable when there is more police presence around us,” Phan said. “(The homeless) are probably also less aggressive when there’s an authority nearby.”

The number of complaints filed against Austin Police Department officers this year is expected to exceed the number of complaints filed in 2012, according to a recent report released by the Office of the Police Monitor. 

In the first half of 2013, 674 people contacted the police monitor’s office with the intent of filing a complaint, an increase of approximately 9 percent from the first half of 2012. If this year’s numbers continue to rise, it will be the first time in three years that the office has seen the number of complaints increase, according to the report.

The most common complaints the department received fell under the category “responsibility to the community,” which includes allegations related to lack of neutrality in civil actions, inappropriate search and seizure and bias-based profiling.

The office monitors all criticisms of APD and then provides information about those criticisms to the public. Police Monitor Margo Frasier said she is committed to promoting mutual respect between APD officers and the community they serve.

“I tell my staff that their job is to increase trust and transparency, and part of that is being able to explain to people why police officers do what they do,” Frasier said. 

Unlike APD, the UT Police Department does not have an independent police monitor office. Complaints are submitted through the department’s website.

UTPD Lieutenant Dennis Chartier said the UT System requires campus police to compile an annual statistical summary, available upon request to the public.

UTPD received a total of 10 complaints in 2012. Since 2006, the department has not received more than 50 complaints in a single year. 

Chartier said the department presents its complaint statistics to the UTPD Oversight Committee, a group of three students appointed by President William Powers Jr., in an annual meeting.

“It’s not a requirement, but something the chief offered [to do],” Chartier said. 

None of the 30 students The Daily Texan interviewed said they were aware submitting a complaint about a UTPD officer was possible, though some said were glad to learn they had the option.

“It’s important for every organization to have a place for constructive criticism,” biology junior Tania Joakim said. 

Taylor Bruner, a human development and family sciences junior, said she hoped students would not feel intimidated by law enforcement.

“Just because [police officers] have authority doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to call them out if necessary,” Bruner said.

Half of the complaints filed against UTPD last year were unfounded, meaning an investigation proved the allegation false, according to the UTPD report.

Austin Police Department Assistant Chief of Police, David Carter, talks about why he deserves to be the next UTPD Chief of Police.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Although the relationship between the Austin Police Department and UT Police Department is generally strong, a candidate vying to be UT’s next police chief believes it can be stronger.

David Carter, assistant chief of APD and one of four candidates for the position of UTPD chief, spoke Friday on his plans for UTPD if he is selected. Carter said he will focus on creating a strong relationship between APD and UTPD so they can accomplish their two main goals — keeping the community safe and creating a community-wide perception of safety.

“Clearly there’s differences between the campus police department and the city police department, but their roles are very similar,” Carter said.

He said he will try to ensure police are perceived on campus as outstanding and to build trust between the community and police officers. Carter said he also plans to reach out to campus organizations.

“A challenge will be how best to approach and address those organizations, some that may want to hear from the police and some that may not want to hear from the police,” Carter said.

University operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon is a member of a committee of more than 20 students, faculty and staff evaluating potential candidates for the position. Weldon said after looking through the applications, the committee narrowed the choices to seven applicants, which Michael Lauderdale, committee chairman and criminal justice professor, narrowed down to four.

Weldon said Carter appealed to her because he has both municipal and University-related backgrounds.

“UT being in such an urban setting, our department representatives work closely with our partners in Central Texas,” Weldon said. “The Sherriff’s department, APD, DPS, they train together, there are large events, there’s large-scale partnering. I was looking for someone who knows how to navigate that.”

Psychology sophomore Dannie Martinez said a stronger police presence on campus would improve the perception of safety.  

“I tend never really to see them unless it’s around the nighttime and they are in their squad cars,” Martinez said. “I haven’t really had to deal with any of them, thankfully, but it would be nice to be reminded that they are on campus.”

Carter is vying to replace Robert Dahlstrom, the current UTPD chief, who is retiring next month. The other three candidates are Melissa Zak, Los Angeles Police Department captain; John McCandless, Miami University Police Department chief; and APD assistant chief Raul Munguia. Carter is the first to speak, and each candidate will speak about their plans on campus to students, faculty and staff throughout the month. 

Photo Credit: Holly Hansel | Daily Texan Staff

With the frenzy of Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday zeal, it can be difficult to divert our attention to more charitable endeavors during the early parts of the holiday season. The UT Police Department is offering an opportunity with its annual toy collection program, Orange Santa, to help facilitate donations small and large for families in need.

Using collection bins placed across campus, UTPD aims to gather hundreds of toys that are unopened and unwrapped. Contributions made to all 30 collection stations, including parking garages, guard stations, Perry-Castañeda Library and the main building, will be distributed to the children of students and faculty who are eligible.

Gifted items are recommended for all ages under 17. Small electronics, jewelry, sports equipment, instruments and board games are among the many suggested contributions. Monetary donations may also be made through Orange Santa’s website or a check made out to the University of Texas.

Throughout the years, the Orange Santa program has garnered a large number of benefactors around UT’s campus and Austin alike. From the University Co-op to the Walmart Foundation, 18 different charitable organizations are chipping in by providing financial assistance to the event. Working alongside the Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association, UTPD is able to provide a full-course meal to families in need, Darrell Halstead, an officer at UTPD who has participated in the program for several years now, said.

“The best part of the whole thing is the look that the kids get in their eyes when we roll a brand new bike over to them,” Halstead said. “It’s fun to watch them become giddy and run around because they know they’re getting early Christmas presents.”

Cash donations, toys and food will be made available to families in need at the Holiday Store, which will be set up in Bellmont Hall between Dec. 8 and 10. Although the deadline to apply for participation in the Orange Santa program has passed, volunteers are still wanted at the Holiday Store between Dec. 6 and Dec. 10 to help assist shoppers and wrap gifts. Students interested in getting involved may contact Kathy Fries, the volunteer organizer behind this concerted effort.

“[Orange Santa] is one of the many things we do here to try and give back to the community a little bit. It gives people a chance to see the police department in a different light and personally, being able to give back is why I love my job,” Halstead said. 

This upcoming Saturday will be the last opportunity for fans to gain free access to a UT sporting event by donating a gift to the Orange Santa toy drive. The UT men’s basketball team will take on UT Arlington in the Frank Erwin Center, although the time of the game has yet to be announced. General donations for the toy drive will conclude Dec. 7.

Printed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 as:UTPD's 'Orange Santa' collects toys

On Tuesday, Nov. 13th, the Daily Texan published an opinion column by Katelyn Sack titled “UT’s response to rape fails to protect students.” Ms. Sack’s column gave readers the impression that UT does not provide adequate services for survivors of sexual violence. This assertion is, quite simply, untrue.

Voices Against Violence is a holistic program operated through UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center. This program provides resources for survivors of sexual violence and works to educate the university community about relationship violence, sexual assault and stalking. Since its inception in 2001, VAV has spearheaded the University’s efforts to prevent sexual violence and provide resources and services for survivors. Although I am not here to claim the system in place is perfect, I believe that it is important for all UT students to know their options as victims of sexual violence and UT’s programs and policies geared toward providing survivor services.

In the 10 years that VAV has existed, more than 150,000 individuals on UT’s campus  — from orientation advisors and the UT Police Department to incoming freshmen and student athletes — have participated in VAV’s training sessions. These sessions offer information on how to be a safe and supportive first responder when an incident of sexual violence is reported, what sexual violence entails and how to identify red flags.

Ms. Sack suggested in her column that part of UT’s failure concerning survivors of sexual assault lies in how survivors are counseled on campus and what their “best reporting option” may be. To be clear, no one has the power to tell survivors how best to respond to their experiences. In fact, for some, the “best reporting option” may be no report whatsoever. The very notion that any one path could possibly be “almost always survivors’ best reporting option” shows an inherent misunderstanding of a survivor ally’s role. The individual who experienced the violence is the expert on it and how he or she feels about it. Attempting to tell a survivor what is best for them potentially disregards a survivor’s ability to take control of an already difficult situation. No one has the right to take the power to choose out of the hands of the survivor.

Voices Against Violence employs a survivor-centered approach. This means that regardless of how survivors choose to come forward with their story — whether they’re seeking medical attention by calling the 24-hour University Health Services nurse advice line, justice by reporting to the UT Police Department, guidance from a resident assistant, or peace of mind by contacting a Voices Against Violence counselor directly  — VAV has trained all of these individuals to respond appropriately. In line with the philosophy of keeping a survivor’s power in his or her own hands, an appropriate response includes disclosure of all reporting options available to the student, some of which include filing a criminal complaint, civil complaint and/or a University complaint.

Despite Sack’s assertion that a civil suit is a survivor’s best option, each of the options listed above has unique pros and cons that affect every survivor in equally distinct ways. Although civil cases are statistically easier to win, in the event of a student committing sexual assault against a peer, a lawyer may not even pick up a civil case. In a civil case, the survivor is essentially suing his or her assailant for a dollar amount that coincides with the heinousness of the crime committed. If the assailant is a young adult in college, he or she is unlikely to have the means with which to pay that amount — and who can really put a price on the privilege of living a life free of sexual violence? If damages cannot be collected, no one gets paid unless a negligent third party can be found responsible and brought to court.

So, yes, civil cases may be easier to win, but only if you can find the money to pay a lawyer to take the case and if the offender has assets. If a survivor finds a feeling of closure in seeing his or her attacker pronounced guilty, that is the survivor’s choice to make, whether through a civil or criminal suit.

In the end, the best support an ally can provide is respecting the power a survivor has over his or her life. The process of creating a safer campus is, as always, a work in progress. Until sexual violence is eradicated, there is more work to be done. But if you are a survivor in need of a place to turn, look to your family. Look to your friends. Look to your fellow Longhorns. We are here and we will listen. We can help.

If you would like to speak to a counselor trained in issues related to relationship violence, sexual violence and stalking, call the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center , which is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., at 471-3515 and request a VAV appointment when scheduling.

If you need to see someone immediately, please come to CMHC on the 5th floor of the Student Services Building and ask to see a Crisis Counselor. No appointment is necessary.

If you would like to speak to someone over the phone confidentially and anonymously, please call UT 24-hour telephone counseling at 512-471-CALL (2255).

Wilkins is a member of Voices Against Violence’s student organization and an economics and international business junior from New Braunfels.

When Captain Julie Gillespie joined the UT Police Department in 1986, not only was she one of the few women working in a male-dominated workplace, but she was also gay.

“Pretty much almost immediately I was out at work and I probably was not the first lesbian that worked there but was the first one to be out,” Gillespie said at a panel last week titled “Living with Pride: Out at Work.”

For those in the LGBT community, coming out at work presents a set of social, moral and legal implications. While Gillespie describes her experience with the University and within the police department as “nothing but positive,” many struggle with the decision of whether or not to come out at work.

The “Living with Pride” panel hosted by the Gender & Sexuality Center, the Sanger Learning Center and UT Residential Life was just one of several events on campus last week organized to mark National Coming Out Week and National Coming Out Day on Thursday. Coming out in the open about one’s sexual orientation is often associated with its effect on friends and families, not bosses and supervisors.

Amanda Ritter, president of the GLBTQA Business Student Association, said deciding to not hide one’s sexual orientation at work can be a challenging but rewarding decision for many LGBT students.

“Not all students are comfortable and confident because this country is still in the process of accepting the LGBTQ community,” Ritter said. “Therefore, a lot of students do struggle. A lot of students that choose to come out, including myself, do so because we don’t want to hide any part of who we are. It just makes things easier to enjoy your job, too.”

In Texas, the legal implications can be especially threatening to LGBT employees. Cary Franklin, assistant professor at the UT School of Law, specializes in employment discrimination.

Franklin said Texas’ labor laws do not defend openly gay employees from discrimination.

“It is legal, under state law, to terminate employees on the basis of sexual orientation,” Franklin said.

Fortunately for students at UT, Austin is one of several Texas cities that have passed bans on employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, Franklin said.

Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and El Paso have passed similar laws. In the 2011 Texas legislative session, Rep. Mike Villarreal D-San Antonio and Rep. Marisa Marquez D-El Paso, respectively, authored a bill to enact a statewide ban on such discrimination, but the bill failed to get out of committee.

Music senior Torsten Knabe said coming out at work is important for reasons far more personal than simply the legal aspects involved.

“People are most productive when they feel they are in a healthy, friendly environment that accepts them for who they are,” Knabe said. “You want people to be able to bring their identity to the table versus having to hide themselves.”

For her part, UTPD Captain Julie Gillespie said she doesn’t see herself as a role model to LGBT youth, but hopes her example can show that coming out at work can be a positive experience.

“I think as individuals, as we come out and are able to see people on TV and people in high positions coming out and it being okay and it being supported, then I think it helps them as they struggle with the issues of coming out in a workplace or at home or wherever,” Gillespie said.

 

Printed on Monday, October 15, 2012 as: Panel explores new side of 'coming out'

UT community members have raised concerns of racial bias in the UT Police Department’s description of the man behind a false bomb threat to the UT campus, and UTPD is standing behind its decision to release the information.

During the response to the threat, which included a campus-wide evacuation, UT Police Department officers released a statement saying the caller was a man with a Middle Eastern accent who said he was affiliated with al-Qaida. A source close to the situation, who asked not to be named because of the confidential information provided, said UTPD asked UT employees what the caller sounded like and if he had an accent. Employees told UTPD the caller had a “light Middle Eastern accent.”

The call came through the University’s general phone line at 8:35 a.m., according to the source. The caller told an employee he was not a UT student, and bombs on campus were going to go off in one to two hours.

“The caller said he was calling from a phone booth in Austin, but the number didn’t have a 512 area code,” the source said.

The caller would not say what building the bombs were in, the source said. The caller remained on the phone for more than 10 minutes while UT employees notified UTPD of the call. Police arrived shortly after the caller hung up, the source said.

A UTPD spokesperson said they received notice of the call at 8:43 a.m. The University issued its first emergency notification at 9:53 a.m. via text message to 69,000 people.

The source said UTPD questioned employees and began their investigation immediately. The source was told by a UTPD officer they needed to thoroughly investigate the phone call before panicking students because most bomb threats are “bottomless.”

English professor Snehal Shingavi said it was possible Arab or Muslim students would face bias or discrimination because of the University’s statement. Shingavi said he does not see why the University needed to release information regarding the caller’s accent. Through Twitter, he invited students to come to his class on Islamophobia. His class meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:00 p.m. in Parlin Hall 206.

During the evacuation, Shingavi tweeted, “All Muslim students at UT, please be safe, and come to my office or contact me if you face any bias or hate or need any support.”

“I want students to know they have access to faculty to help them deal with discrimination and bias they may face on campus,” Shingavi said after the campus had been reopened.

Michael Redding, president of the Graduate Student Assembly and Texas Student Media contracted employee, said he has completed training for bomb threat response and understands why the caller’s accent is important information to collect as part of an investigation.

“You’re trained to pick up on context clues in that kind of situation,” Redding said. “In light of what’s going on internationally, someone saying they are affiliated with al-Qaida with a Middle Eastern accent may be more credible. You can’t ignore any detail that can be relevant to an investigation, but the decision to release the information is kind of splitting hairs.”

Redding said he was not sure about the thought process behind releasing the description.

UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom said the department released the description in anticipation of requests from the public.

“If we hadn’t put that out, we would be getting questions to release that information,” Dahlstrom said.  

He said asking for a description of a caller’s voice is a standard response procedure.

After releasing information about the suspect involved in the false alarms that evacuated 8 campus buildings on Monday, UTPD has posted pictures of the suspect on Facebook in an effort to bring the suspect into custody (Photo courtesy of UT Police Department).

The UT Police Department is still looking for the man who disrupted campus by pulling fire alarms in eight campus buildings Monday.

UT spokesperson Cindy Posey said the false alarms resulted in evacuations on the north and south sides of campus for about two hours. UTPD posted pictures of a suspect on Facebook Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, Posey released information about the suspect: a 5-feet-5-inches tall man, 180 pounds with short black hair.

Chemistry lecturer Sara Sutcliffe said the alarm did not impact her much because she had 10 minutes of office hours left in Welch Hall when the fire alarm was activated.

“It just irritates me that somebody is going to use something which is meant for a serious purpose in a flippant way like this,” Sutcliffe said.

Sutcliffe, who also is a volunteer firefighter, also said because lab experiments occasionally set off alarms, the evacuation of her building proceeded fairly smoothly. She said she took it seriously because Welch Hall has almost burned down before. In October 1996, a postdoctoral research project resulted in a fire on the fifth floor of the building, according to an article in the Victoria Advocate.

Devon Rooks, a psychology and sociology freshman, said he evacuated from the Texas Union as a result of the alarm-pulling spree. Rooks, who was getting lunch, said at first he did not take the alarm seriously.

“But then a message came on and [it] was like ‘No, something is going on. You need to get out,’” Rooks said.

Rooks said he made it out with his lunch and backpack, but there were people behind him who had to evacuate before they could get their food. Overall, Rooks said he was satisfied with UTPD and Austin Fire Department’s response.

“By the time that I got out of my class, people were already back at the Union,” he said. “And by the time I checked my email after class, the UT police were like ‘Hey, this is what happened.’”

UT police sent out a description of the suspect Monday at 4:51 p.m. Undeclared freshman Shanzeh Mohammed also said she was satisfied with UTPD’s response, and her calculus class was allowed back into Calhoun Hall about eight minutes after the fire alarm was pulled at approximately 2:20 p.m.

Mohammed said she has one question for the uncaught prankster: “Why?” As of press time, UTPD said they still had made no arrests and need witnesses to step forward. They may be contacted at 512-471-4441.

Austin Fire Leutenant Brooks Frederick, UT Fire Prevention Safetey Specialist II Roosevelt Easley and Safetey Specialist I Francisco Gutierrez exchange information after fire alarms were set off in 11 UT buildings Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

UT Police Department said witnesses reported a suspect pulling fire alarms across campus Monday afternoon, which resulted in eight on-campus building evacuations.

According to interviews with witnesses, UTPD spokesperson Cindy Posey said the suspect is either white or Hispanic and is in his 30s. She said he was wearing a white T-shirt with writing on it, blue-jean shorts, a religious necklace and a black hat with red trim. Posey also said he is around 5-feet-5-inches tall, weighs 180 pounds and has short black hair.

Posey said no emergencies were confirmed, but as of Monday night UTPD was not ready to confirm that all the alarms were false.

Monday evening, The Daily Texan obtained security camera photos of the suspect from UTPD. The photos are available for viewing online.

Posey said students are encouraged to call the police if they see someone matching the suspect’s description or the security camera photos.

Initial bomb threat update from University raises concerns about racial bias

UT community members have raised concerns of racial bias in the UT Police Department’s description of the man behind a false bomb threat to the UT campus Friday morning, and UTPD is standing behind its decision to release the information.  

During the response to the threat, which included the evacuation of thousands of students, faculty and staff from all campus buildings, UT Police Department officers released a statement saying the caller was a man with a Middle Eastern accent who said he was affiliated with Al Qaeda. A source close to the situation said UTPD asked UT employees what the caller sounded like and if he had an accent. Employees told UTPD the caller had a light Middle Eastern accent.

The call came through the University’s general phone line at 8:30 a.m., according to the source. The caller told an employee he was not a UT student, and there were bombs on campus going off in one to two hours.

“The caller said he was calling from a phone booth in Austin, but the number didn’t have a 512 area code,” the source said.

The caller would not say what building the bomb was in, the source said. The caller remained on the phone for more than 10 minutes while UT employees notified UTPD of the call. Police arrived shortly after the caller hung up, the source said.

A UTPD spokesperson said they received notice of the call at 8:43 a.m. The University issued its first emergency notification at 9:53 a.m. via text message to 69,000 people.

The source said UTPD questioned employees and began their investigation immediately. The source was told by a UTPD officer they needed to thoroughly investigate the phone call before panicking students because most bomb threats are “bottomless.”

Associate English professor Snehal Shingavi said the description of the caller provided in the Universtiy statement could cause bias or discrimination toward Arab or Muslim students. Shingavi said he does not see why the University needed to release information regarding the caller’s accent.

During the evacuation, Shingavi tweeted, “All Muslim students at UT, please be safe, and come to my office or contact me if you face any bias or hate or need any support.”

“I want students to know they have access to faculty to help them deal with discrimination and bias they may face on campus,” Shingavi said after the campus had been reopened.

UTPD Chief Robert E. Dahlstrom said they released the description in anticipation of requests from the public.

“If we hadn’t put that out, we would be getting questions to release that information,” he said. “In a situation like this, we try to find out as much as we can about the person behind a bomb threat.” 

Dahlstrom said asking for a description of a caller’s voice is part of the department’s standard response procedures.