UT students, faculty, staff say ‘transient crime' is big problem off-campus

The University of Texas at Austin police say the “citizen survey” is something they do every three years for law enforcement accreditation.

“We e-mailed this survey out to every student, faculty and staff,” said UTPD Assistant Chief Don Verett.

A total of 4,590 UT Austin community members responded.

“It gives us an idea of how we're doing and how we can do better,” Verett said.

The good news for UT is that 78 percent of students, faculty and staff indicated they feel safe on campus and 74 percent believe UTPD will effectively handle a crisis.

They were also asked what their biggest concern was regarding crime on campus and most said “threats or attacks.”

But as for off-campus, most said “transient crime.” 

“I’ve never really felt unsafe but as soon as I walk off campus it does feel a little bit more unsafe,” said student Jules Steward. "There’s sometimes people shouting on the streets, there's different situations at night time that maybe don't give me the best feeling about my safety."

Student Zack Henry echoed Steward, saying he's even had things thrown at him.

“For the most part I do not feel safe on campus,” said Henry. “There have been several incidents, I’ve had things thrown at me, I’ve had people run and chase me and yell things at me.”

Henry says those who threw things at him he would categorize as homeless.

“Always sort of a 'having to watch your back' kind of feeling just because there's a lot of people on Guad and further into West Campus that some have really bad intentions,” he said.

Kacey Vandervort is a native Austinite and an officer in the student chapter of a UT safety advocacy group called SafeHorns.

“I had a transient criminal come out of an alleyway and tell me ‘give me your backpack’ and I said 'no.'  Like I stuck my hand up because that's what my mom has always told me to do, you make it clear -- 'no’ and then he just started sprinting after me,” she said.

Vandervort says this happened in West Campus. Thankfully she outran him and called the police. 

“This is my city and it's happening to me here while I walk a block,” she said. "It’s really something that needs to be addressed."

So what should be done?

“You don't really see APD ever around here until after an incident has occurred,” Vandervort said. "You see them for about a week, they make everyone feel safe and then they leave."

In a letter attached to the survey results, Chief David Carter pointed out earlier this year UTPD launched a re-organization structure built around identifying threats to campus. The department is also bringing active shooter training to students and will host two events in the fall.

As for off-campus, Carter says they'll continue to support Austin PD and patrol near campus as much as possible, even moreso with the re-organization of the department.

“If you see something, say something. If you're ever threatened or you feel threatened at all, call 911 and if it's close to campus, often the Austin Police Department will transfer that call,” Verett said.

Some students said they didn't receive the survey and would have liked to have responded. UTPD says anyone didn't get the e-mail is to contact them and they'll get with I.T. to investigate what happened.