Karen Adler

Patrol rifles, Humvees  and a mine-resistant vehicle are among some of the military-grade equipment the UT System acquired under a U.S. Department of Defense program. Known as Section 1033, the program allows law enforcement agencies across the country, including the System police, to receive surplus military supplies from the government since 1997.

System spokeswoman Karen Adler said the program helps universities acquire supplies used by police in a cost-effective way.

“The UT System participates in the 1033 program so that we can acquire equipment necessary to protect students and staff at little or no cost to taxpayers,” Adler said.

According to Adler, the System has acquired several forms of military equipment, including rifles, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle and two Humvees over the past few years. Most of the equipment is used to fulfill policy requirements or protect police and victims in the event of an emergency, Adler said.

“The rifles acquired by the UT-Tyler police department, for example, fulfill a System policy that requires all System police officers to have access to a patrol rifle,” Adler said. “The two Humvees acquired by UT System are used by the System Rapid Response Team in the Rio Grande Valley to protect the UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American campuses and would also be deployed elsewhere in the System, if needed.”

While one of the most intimidating pieces of equipment acquired does not carry weapons, it could also be used for either police or civilian protection in an emergency or natural disaster, Adler said.

“The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, was acquired this past spring and is located at UT System’s police academy,” Adler said. “It doesn’t carry any weapons, but it would be used to provide protection to officers or victims in the event of a catastrophic armed intruder or active shooter. The vehicle also would be used to access areas devastated by a natural disaster to locate and rescue survivors.”

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD had not received any equipment from the 1033 program, although it is part of the System.

Adler said universities are required to provide justification for why they need certain pieces of equipment.

“The process requires law enforcement agencies to apply through the Texas Department of Public Safety and submit justification,” Adler said.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety website, participating agencies in the program are given equipment free of charge and are prohibited from reselling or leasing the gear. They also must provide updates on the location of “tactical” gear, such as armored vehicles and weaponry. 

APD Lt. Kurt Rothert said APD has also received several items through the program, particularly military helmets and helicopter parts.

“We probably get around 400 to 500 helmets a year,” Rothert said. “They’re useful for crowd control situations, and being able to reuse items is a good use of money because, otherwise, we’d have to pay hundreds of dollars for them on the civilian market.”

Rothert said items are either transferred to other agencies or returned to the government after they have outlived their usefulness. 

Adler said all UT System officers go through a minimum of 833 hours of basic training, which reduces the possibility of any equipment misuse.

“Through training and policy, we bring to an absolute minimum any possibility that mistaken or inappropriate use of equipment could occur,” Adler said.

In an effort to complete the construction of the Dell Medical School on time for the school’s first class of medical students in July 2016, UT officials said the University will complete multiple construction projects simultaneously.

Construction of the medical school will begin in mid-March and is projected to cost $334 million. While Seton Healthcare Family will build a teaching hospital on the site of University Medical Center Brackenridge, UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler said the University’s first phase of construction includes a research building, an education and administrative building, a medical office building and a parking garage.

Adler said the construction of the four buildings and landscaping are scheduled to be completed by May 2016. Adler said Red River Street will undergo extensive construction, which will result in the road’s closure between 15th Street and the Frank Erwin Center.

“Red River likely will be closed by the end of the spring semester to accommodate the utility work and realignment,” Adler said.

To minimize disruption, University officials plan to close the road after the spring semester ends in May until the end of December, according to Stephen Harris, director of facilities
initiatives at the System Office of Facilities Planning and Construction.

Harris said before construction can begin, workers must move the existing facilities, including a parking lot and the tennis center, to new locations.

“The first phase of the real construction involves rerouting Austin utilities and installing University utilities down through the Red River corridor,” Harris said.

A significant challenge in the project involves the complexity of constructing buildings simultaneously, Harris said.

“We’re talking about 22 or 23 acres [that] are going to all be under construction at once,” Harris said. “A lot of times in design, the process is linear. In the short schedule, a lot has to be done at once.”

Harris said the University plans to minimize inconvenience to pedestrians, but he said some restrictions in the area are unavoidable.

“A lot of people park in those state garages,” Harris said. “It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to walk through Centennial Park.”

According to Harris, the University’s master plan establishes that any newly constructed buildings must be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a federal agency that aims to encourage the construction of buildings that minimize environmental waste.

“We’re definitely committed to the sustainable initiatives,” Harris said. “The University will create a real sense of place on the street, create focus for pedestrian traffic and create an iconic design element there.”

Brina Bui, Plan II and biology junior, said she thinks medical students can benefit from a well-designed environment that not only fosters learning but also allows for relaxation.

“I think that, for me personally, being outside is a stress-reliever,” Bui said. “I feel like if [the University] found a way to incorporate nature with the structure and making things more open — I think med school is stressful enough without being confined to a single room.”