Violent Crime in West Campus Leaves Students Shocked, Leaders Calling for Change
By Megan Fee
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – One person shot at 22nd and Pearl, man with a gun threatened employee at 7-Eleven, officers attempting to locate robbery suspect – all three of these incident notifications reached the inboxes of students at The University of Texas at Austin within a span of just four days earlier this month.
Recent incidents of violent crime in the West Campus area like these have left UT students questioning their safety and campus leaders striving for improvements.
“The reality of crime can be overwhelming,” said Joell McNew, president of SafeHorns, a local safety advocacy group.
McNew points to a lack of collaboration between APD and UTPD as the cause of subpar communication to UT students, faculty and parents. She also said, if necessary, UTPD funding should be increased to improve staffing.
“We can’t just keep being reactionary, and then roll out with some temporary solutions, and then go back to where we were,” McNew said. “We need to clearly define what our expectations are, and our need to feel and be safe on campus, because a lot of it is fear and uncertainty.”
Chief Don Verett said UTPD is “not a news organization,” and that it is not the responsibility of UTPD to update the public on what is happening in the area. However, he said UTPD strives to provide the community with information and strategies to help residents be safe in the future.
“I think statistically, the areas west of the UT campus are still one of the safest areas anywhere in the city of Austin. But there’s a difference between being safe and feeling safe,” he said.
Verett also warns students about the spread of misinformation surrounding crime on social media platforms, like Twitter.
UT President Jay Hartzell released a statement on Nov. 1 calling for UTPD to increase its patrol in West Campus and develop additional options to enhance student safety.
According to the statement, this area is technically the City of Austin’s jurisdiction. However, Hartzell believes the best outcomes will stem from a coordinated effort between UTPD, the Austin Police Department and the State Department of Public Safety.
These new efforts build on an $8 million investment approved by the Board of Regents in 2020, according to the statement. The investment was intended to create a campus patrol district, hire new officers, install a network of security cameras and establish a UTPD West Campus satellite office.
“$8 million is a fantastic start, and we’re super excited, but obviously we’re making up for years of infrastructure and improvements that we need,” McNew said.
Hattie Fahnestock, a senior at UT, was startled by the sound of gunfire and screams just a few floors beneath her West Campus apartment building during the shooting at 22nd and Pearl street on Halloween night.
Fahnestock said she’d like to see improved safety infrastructure closer to where she resides.
“I think those same things that are helpful for students that are living on campus should be extended to everybody else, so we’re feeling more comfortable,” she said.
She also said coupling incident notification with a “call to action” would give students a clearer idea of how to react during an emergency situation.
“At the end of the day, every college campus should be safe,” McNew said.
UTPD and SafeHorns encourage UT students, faculty and parents to download the free mobile LiveSafe at UT Austin application for emergency notifications.