Layne Brewster

Car burglaries in West Campus have been on the rise for the past two months, according to Austin Police Department officials. 

Between March 22 and the end of April, 47 car burglaries took place. A Campus Watch email, which UTPD sent out, notified students of the increased activity.

Although West Campus is distinct from the University, officers from the APD said they wanted students to be aware of the trend. When APD officer William Harvey notified UTPD, APD officers said a lot of the break-ins occurred because students left their cars unlocked, which increased accessibility for thieves.  

“Vehicle burglaries are typically crimes of opportunity, so to speak,” Harvey said. “If somebody walks by your car and there’s nothing in it, [the chances] of somebody wanting to break into it is pretty low.”

Officers also said students had left their belongings in their cars clearly visible to anyone walking past, UTPD Sgt. Layne Brewster said. 

Although Harvey said car burglaries are common in West Campus, he said the thieves did not take high-value items. 

“Actually this was kind of weird — there was a lot of paperwork taken in 17 of the 47 cases,” Harvey said. “There was some sort of paper work — anything from vehicle registration paperwork — and there were even some owner’s manuals taken. I’ve never heard of owner’s manuals being taken from vehicles, so that was strange.” 

When it comes to preventing thefts such as this from happening, Brewster said the solution is pretty straightforward. 

“The number one thing is to take everything out of your car — that way there is nothing for anyone to steal,” Brewster said. “The other option is to hide it, but, if you hide it, you still run the risk of someone breaking into the car.” 

While covering items up with other things or hiding them is common, Brewster said the police do not recommend it because it often will not deter a thief from trying to get into a car. 

“If the car is locked, they break a window, and then not only are you going to lose out on the items that they steal, but you’re also going to have to repair that window,” Brewster said. 

Fifteen of the 47 burglaries involved cars with their windows broken, Harvey said.

As part of an effort to help raise awareness about the issue, APD officers went around to different garages and left notes on people’s cars telling them what, if anything, inside their car would make it more likely for an individual to break in.

Although her car was not broken into, linguistics and mathematics senior Madison Lasris said she was not happy when she saw the note. 

“[I thought] that it made it really easy for thieves [because] they didn’t even have to look in cars since the police did that for them,” Lasris said. 

Officers usually find laptops or other high value items, but Harvey said he has seen thieves break into cars for as little as change in cup holders.

“Basically, it’s just a reminder for people that if we can see what’s in your car, think about who else can walk up and see what’s in your car,” Harvey said. 

After the Austin Police Department noted an increase in residential burglaries, auto burglaries and auto thefts in West Campus, UTPD and APD are urging students to take precautions to secure their cars and residences.

According to a Campus Watch report, APD reported a total of 18 auto burglaries, 29 residential burglaries and seven auto thefts in the West Campus area last month. 

According to a statement by APD, most of the auto burglaries happened on Sundays or Mondays between midnight and 7 a.m., in the area between Lamar Boulevard and Guadalupe Street and between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 31st Street. Most of the residential burglaries in West Campus happened Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In both types of burglaries, nearly all of the entries were through unlocked doors.

Of the seven cars that were stolen, most were BMWs and other higher-end cars, according to the statement. In two cases, the keys were left in the car, whereas, in three other cases, the keys were stolen from the victims' homes.

UTPD Sgt. Layne Brewster said that, while West Campus typically falls under APD's jurisdiction, UTPD still urges students to take precautions to protect their homes and vehicles from burglaries and thefts.

"We want to remind students to always lock doors and windows to their automobiles and homes, even when they're inside," Brewster said. "Most thefts or burglaries occur because people just don't lock their doors."

Brewster also said students should keep bikes inside or locked up in garages, and they should remove anything valuable from cars.

"Even charge cords for cellphones or iPods — don't leave them in plain sight," Brewster said. "[Thieves] are kind of going shopping, just looking for what they can see and what's easy to take."

Brewster said UTPD's bike unit will also patrol the West Campus area to increase police presence and try to decrease crime.

Veneza Bremner, APD senior police officer, said officers will conduct special initiatives in the area to prevent crime and remind residents to protect their vehicles and homes by taking precautions that will make them less of a target. Tips include parking in well-lit areas, locking cars or residences and hiding valuables.

With the installment of new security systems, the days of a custodians locking and unlocking buildings around campus are over.

Of the 160 buildings on campus, 65-70 are installed with the Building Access Control System to allow only certain people access during restricted hours.

New and renovated buildings are now required to have the security system installed.

Bob Harkins, associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said the committee is trying to install the control system around the perimeter of campus first because they have the most exposure, and hopes to have that portion of the project completed within the next several years.

“Certainly there is a concern about theft, but my main concern was personal security when you have someone working in a remote site by themselves until three or four in the morning,” Harkins said.

With the updated system, new UT ID cards have a built-in chip that is programmed for the system to allow certain students, faculty and staff access during the night. Each building has an administrator who determines which ID cards can gain late access. 

Officer Layne Brewster of the UT Crime Prevention Unit said eventually all buildings will have card access on the exterior doors so that all doors can be locked with the push of a button, making the campus safer in a lockdown.

“It would be great to have the access card readers on all exterior doors, but that costs a lot of money,” Brewster said.

Brewster said the system could fail when students prop open doors, which makes it more difficult for police officers to know when there is a security breach.

Plan II architecture senior Hank Parker uses his proximity-enabled ID card to
access Sutton and Goldsmith Halls any time after closing to work in his studio.

“With the buildings securely locked late into the evening, I don’t have to worry about my valuables being taken from my studio by a stranger or threatened by any suspicious persons wandering into the building as I work late into the night,” Parker said.

Parker said he contacted UTPD one night while working in his studio because two men identifying themselves as construction workers approached him in the building, which seemed suspicious at 2 a.m.

Students should always have their phones on them when they stay late on campus, according to UTPD officer Jimmy Moore.

“Whether you’re sure or unsure if it’s an actual crime, we’d always rather show up and find that there’s nothing going on versus not ever being called because you didn’t think it was,” Moore said.

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

The daily emails recounting incidents involving strong odors of alcohol and small baggies containing a “green leafy substance” are the product of the UTPD’s continued crime prevention efforts.

Campus Watch, a service established in 1999 by UTPD, provides summaries of selected information about recent crimes reported.

UTPD Assistant Chief Terry McMahan said the idea for Campus Watch was suggested under the Clery Act, requiring universities to disclose criminal activity happening on campus.

“The intent was to inform the campus community about UTPD activity on campus each day,” McMahan said. “It makes the campus more aware.”

The author of the Campus Watch updates, Officer Jimmy Moore, said he feels the daily posts are more effective as a means of spreading information than the annual reports, which are federally mandated.

“Most universities are required and bound by the Clery Act to report all their violent and significant crimes, but that’s on an annual basis,” Moore said. “It’s really good information, but it’s from the previous year and doesn’t give you much [information] in real time.”

Moore said if the Crime Prevention Unit notices trends of certain crimes occurring in certain locations, UTPD will also increase the number of officers present within the area. The unit also conducts 250 to 300 presentations on campus safety every semester.

“Campus Watch is just one of the many tools we use to reach the public,” Moore said.

Moore said humor was added to the Campus Watch rhetoric shortly after its creation to increase readership.

More than 15,900 people are subscribed to Campus Watch emails, and Moore said the large user base means balancing humor and sensitivity can be a nerve-racking experience.

“You don’t want to offend someone,” Moore said. “You never know who’s out there reading it, so you don’t know what will and won’t offend … knowing your audience is really tough because we have such a broad range. 

Still, Moore said, humor is an important tool for keeping the reports compelling.

“You still try to keep it just witty, funny, where you can keep people involved and keep people wanting to read it,” Moore said. “That way, you can also get the second part of it, which is keeping people informed about what’s going on and keeping them safe.”

Since its inception, nine different officers have been in charge of writing Campus Watch. Moore took over for Officer Darrell Halstead in July of this year.  

Layne Brewster, who works alongside Moore in the Crime Prevention Unit, said Moore has always been an effortlessly funny person.

“Jimmy seriously has a sense of humor,” said Brewster, who is also Moore’s roommate. “He’s a lot quicker with the wit … I’d have to sit at it for a while and think, ‘How can I use this?’” 

Moore, who is being promoted from patrol to sergeant in February, has deep ties with the department.

“I’ve been an officer for about 12 years now,” Moore said. “My father was a recruiting sergeant here and retired after 35 years. I’ve been around the department since I was in diapers.” 

Brewster said she will miss Moore’s approach to Campus Watch. 

“Jimmy is becoming sergeant in February so I’ll have a new person here,” Brewster said. “I told my captains they have to be funny.”

Criminal trespassing, criminal mischief and the most popular crime on campus, theft, have all been reduced on campus since 2000, according to UTPD’s Annual Security Report. 

According to the crime logs, controlled substance abuse and liquor law violations have more than doubled since 2000, while public intoxication has quadrupled. 

The department was unable to speculate on the role Campus Watch plays in crime reduction.

“We like to think what were doing is making a difference, and we’re hoping that it is, but there’s no true way to test and measure that to say it’s because of [Campus Watch],” Moore said. “We are fully aware that the more information we are able to get out to the public and the more knowledgeable they are about crimes, opportunity and how to prevent them the better prepared they are and the less likely they are to leave something alone to have it stolen.”

Moore said the best thing the unit can do to combat this spike is keep the public informed on substance abuse trends and ways to avoid them.

“It all goes back to knowledge,” Moore said. “What are the trends we’re seeing? What are the new substances and drugs people are using and the best way to combat it and what to look for to avoid it? … The knowledge you have can help you to avoid that situation and know exactly what the effects something are and maybe you won’t try it.”

Random graffiti around campus and busted exit signs in residence halls cause headaches for University police and administration, and according to officials, they are the most prevalent types of vandalism around campus.

Officer Layne Brewster of UTPD’s crime prevention unit said graffiti is the most frequently reported type of vandalism on campus. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, Brewster said there have been 70 reports of graffiti of all forms — with restroom stalls, newspaper dispensers, trash cans and utility poles tagged regularly.

UT Facilities Services spokeswoman Laurie Lentz said Facilities Services is responsible for all graffiti cleanup on campus. Lentz said Facilities has four teams that cover four zones on campus. These teams, or “Zones,” are the first responders for outdoor graffiti removal.

Zone 2 supervisor Herb Woerndell said his team oversees maintenance of the central campus area, which encompasses most buildings on the original 40 Acres.

“We all get our hands into some graffiti,” Woerndell said. “Zone 2 is one of the highest visibility areas, and I get tagged pretty hard now and then.”

Woerndell said Walter Webb Hall, which is across the street from the Jesse H. Jones Communications Center, is a go-to canvas for graffiti artists and is tagged two to three times a month.

“The black wall facing Guadalupe Street is like a blackboard for graffiti,” Woerndell said. “Sometimes I guess what they do is climb a tree on the north side and get on the roof of the WWH and spray paint the wall over there. That’s been tagged more than a few times.”

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, UTPD responded to 93 reports of criminal mischief. Brewster said broken exit signs in residence halls are among the highest reported incidents. According to UTPD’s Campus Watch report, three separate reports of damaged exit signs inside Jester West were reported in the past week. 

Aaron Voyles, area manager for the University’s Division of Housing and Food Services, said broken exit signs are a recurring problem and should not be taken lightly. Although broken exit signs cost $75 to fix, Voyles said the cost of repair is secondary to the potential safety risks at hand.

“Damaged exit signs are immediately reported to UTPD and maintenance,” Voyles said. “These incidents are a primary concern for us because exit signs are life and safety equipment. They’re designed to make sure our students can safely exit the building during emergencies.”

Although an offensive sketch or subversive message is not life-threatening, removing graffiti is a source of frustration for Facilities employees. 

Graffiti wipes and pressure washers are effective on smooth walls around campus, Woerndell said. If statues are vandalized, the process is more difficult. Woerndell’s team once spent an entire day cleaning the Martin Luther King Jr. statue with soap and water because bronze statues can be damaged by chemically-treated cleaning products.

“If the wall is tagged pretty hard and the paint is soaked up real good, then Construction
will come over and sandblast it,” Woerndell said.

Lentz said Custodial Services cleans indoor graffiti, primarily in restrooms, that can be removed with standard cleaning products.

Sally Moore, associate director for Custodial Services, said custodians try to eliminate graffiti immediately.

“Experience has proven that any amount of graffiti attracts more graffiti, so our practice is to remove graffiti as soon as it’s noticed,” Moore said. “We also have surface coating products that make it difficult to write on the surface.”

A woman was attacked while running on a hike-and-bike trail near Interstate 35 on Monday morning.  Her suspected attacker, a 20-year-old man, was taken into custody later that day.

Austin Police Department and UTPD did not comment on whether the two people involved were UT students.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said the area in which the incident occurred does not have a history of criminal activity. 

Though the incident did not occur on campus, students often exercise and workout around Austin. UTPD Officer Layne Brewster said because of this, students should always be aware of their surroundings while running and try to avoid running after dark. 

Runners who listen to music are advised to do so with one earbud in and listen for people coming up behind them. 

“I know it may be inconvenient, but they need to run with a cell phone on them in case they need to call 911,” Brewster said. 

Brewster also said if students feel uncomfortable or feel they are being followed, they should turn around, cross the street, move to an area where they feel safe and, if necessary, call 911.

Biomedical engineering and art history senior Jen Nordhauser runs in a public track near her apartment complex. Typically, she runs at 6 a.m. while there are other people on the track. 

“The only time I’ve felt uncomfortable is when there were guys sitting at the track on the picnic tables, but the fact that there were other runners running around, I felt safer,” Nordhauser said.

Nordhauser has lived in Austin her entire life, and said she’s heard of incidents like this happening to other runners and cyclists.

“You just have to be smart about where you run,” Nordhauser said.

Warmer weather will bring more car thefts to Austin, and although thefts and break-ins are rare at the University, both UTPD and the Austin Police Department are preparing for the predicted rise.

According to a list released by the Austin Police Department, the Honda Accord was the most commonly stolen car in Austin in 2012. Various types of American-made cars and three Toyota models also appeared among the top 10 stolen car models.

Diana Amaro, APD neighborhood liaison, said the first five months of the year usually correspond to an increase in truck thefts. According to Amaro, the department works to prevent break-ins and thefts by educating the community on ways to take precautions. 

One program offered by the APD encourages drivers to have their car windows engraved for free with a Vehicle Identification Number to make it identifiable and to deter thieves.

“If you go to a car dealership, you will pay $200 to $400 for this service. The Austin Police Department provides it free from a grant that [it] receives from Texas Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention,” Amaro said.

If a thief were to steal an engraved car, they would have to break and replace each window to remove the Vehicle Identification Number, Amaro said. 

The Help End Auto Theft program is another initiative by the APD to reduce car theft. By enrolling in the program, drivers give law enforcement permission to stop their cars and verify ownership between one and five in the morning, which is when most vehicles are stolen, Amaro said. Vehicles enrolled in the program are identified by a car decal," Amaro said.

The University uses education to help prevent auto theft Layne Brewster, University of Texas Police Department officer, said.

“Basically, we have programs that educate students,” Brewster said. “We have the campus watch that we put out. I believe that we have little brochures that officers in the past have gone around and just left out, especially during the holidays,” 

At the University, car break-ins, which are more common than thefts, are usually seasonal, Brewster said. They tend to spike around Christmas and spring break according to Brewster.

Between Dec. 1, 2012 and Feb. 5, 2013, the University of Texas Police Department had five reports of car break-ins and thefts, Brewster said.

Students and campus staff also take measures to prevent car theft.

“I park in a parking garage,” Allison Cope, an administrative assistant for the Division of Housing and Food Service, said. “I feel like it’s probably safer there. If I park on the street, I try to park near buildings or high-traffic areas.” 

Published on February 6, 2013 as "Local police predict increase in car thefts".

Photo courtesy of Heyride!

A UT alumnus has created an app that intends to take the stress out of finding a ride around the ever-growing Austin area. Still in its beta phase, Heyride! allows people signed up as riders to mark their present location and designate where they want to go. Other users signed up as drivers then make bids to the rider for how much money they think the ride is worth. Riders select the driver they want and are picked up and taken wherever they need to go.

“Austin is the perfect place to do this,” CEO of Heyride! Josh Huck said.

Huck, who graduated from UT in 2009, said that the sense of community that inherently exists in Austin could be a big factor in the success of this new app.  He came up with the idea in March during SXSW.

“I saw a normal-looking guy in a Volvo. I remember looking at that guy, and I thought, ‘If I could give him five bucks to get me to my office, that would be awesome,’” Huck said.

Although this new app comes with many potential safety concerns, Huck was quick to nullify any doubts.

“Safety is a top priority, as is privacy,” Huck said.

True to those words, Heyride! has a number of safety features. Drivers cannot see the exact location of the potential rider until the rider agrees to be picked up. No cash money is ever exchanged between rider and driver. Transactions are done automatically with a credit card number through the app. Neither the rider nor the driver are ever given each other’s phone number, as all phone calls are made through the app.

Additionally, driver and rider integrity is crucial to safety, so numerous features are dedicated to letting drivers and riders know just whom they are riding with. On top of a five-star rating system, drivers and riders can give each other reviews. One interesting feature is the “Social Driver” screening process. When a driver first signs up on the app, they login with their Facebook account. Until they have successfully given a set number of rides and achieved a high enough rating, they can only give rides to their Facebook friends or friends of their Facebook friends. If this isn’t a viable option, drivers can purchase a background check. Once they clear either of those, they are free to cater to the greater Austin area. The incentive is to have a large clientele so making money is easier.

“I wouldn’t do it,” said Officer Layne Brewster, a crime prevention specialist with UTPD. But she offered solid advice for those who want to give it a shot, anyway.

“Take a picture of the license plate before you get in the car, and send it to a friend. That way there is a record of when you got in the car, as well as the make and model of the car.” She also suggested taking a picture of the driver’s face and sending it to a friend, as well as sitting in the back seat if possible.

Brewster also brought up valid arguments about overlooked safety issues.

“Where is the protection for the driver?” Brewster asked. “If a [rider] is intoxicated, is the driver responsible?”

Despite potential worries, some students showed interest in the app. Studio art sophomore Jannice Truong said she might participate, remarking that she spends a lot time waiting for the bus and pedicabs, which can charge a hefty price.

“I wouldn’t do it by myself,” she said.

Mechanical engineering junior Habeeb Mudeer said he wouldn’t mind giving rides if payment was involved.

“[It] depends on if they were a college student,” he said.

HeyRide! is looking for more drivers while in its beta stage. Huck said the app will be available in Apple’s app store within the next month. He said that he hopes to see Heyride! make its way to the Android platform soon, as well as making the app more versatile in the future. This would include the option to plan long trips and create designated planned pick-up times.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Heyride! app offers Austin iPhone owners new way to travel

The University of Texas Police Department is asking parents to disregard suspicious phone calls demanding a ransom for their kidnapped child. The police have received two reports of this happening, both of which have been scams.

UTPD officer Layne Brewster said in both incidents the parents called their children after receiving the ransom phone call and were able to get in touch with them. In one incident, a father reported the kidnappers had someone impersonate his daughter. He became suspicious when the voice’s accent sounded different.

“He didn’t think that was his daughter, and he was able to get in touch with his daughter after the phone call,” Brewster said.

In this scam, Brewster said the posed kidnappers were not asking for a large amount of money.

“They’re not asking for millions, they’re asking for a low amount of money so parents might go ‘Oh, that’s worth sending, just to make sure,’” Brewster said.

Brewster said if parents find themselves in this situation, they should remain calm and take note of information such as the caller’s phone number, where they are asked to send money and the location of the kidnappers.

“Listen to everything they are saying because any tidbit through the phone, anything parents hear, could possibly assist police,” Brewster said.