West Campus Shooting Revives UTPD Concerns

UT's pledge to boost police patrol misses the point, says students

Image via Getty Images

At about 11:30 on Halloween night, UT-Austin junior Kushaal Vaidya anxiously watched his Twitter feed as students posted alarming accounts of what they thought was happening in West Campus. After a confirmed shooting at 21st and Pearl a few minutes earlier, students tuned into police scanners and voiced rumors of multiple shooters and random violence, and Vaidya grew concerned for his friends, still out and about after the night's partying. "Is it safe for them to walk home? Do they need to just walk with partners or do they just need to stay where they are?"

Vaidya says he first heard from the university about the incident via an email sent an hour later, at about 12:30am, and was frustrated by the school's lack of timely communication. "Obviously rumors are going to happen when we have nothing from an official source ... I'm very disappointed. I think UT dropped the ball to like a crazy extent, which is horrible considering that students' lives were at stake."

The shooting at 21st and Pearl proved to be the only confirmed report of gunfire in West Campus that night, according to UT Police Department spokesperson Noelle Newton. The person injured in that incident, who remains in the hospital as of press time, is not a UT student. Adding to the confusion were calls reporting "shots fired" that turned out to be fireworks, but which were lumped together with the actual shooting as a single incident. "We are learning of rumors that circulated among students about multiple shooters," Newton said. "We encourage our students to only follow official accounts for factual information."

In a tweet on Monday, UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell reiterated his commitment to protecting students off campus. "The safety of our campus community remains a top priority for the university," he wrote. "In light of recent events, I am directing UTPD to increase its patrol in the West Campus area and develop additional options to enhance safety for our students." Some students aren't happy with that solution, fearing that increased police presence in West Campus will lead to more trouble for unhoused neighbors and students of color. There's also skepticism about UTPD's crime­-prevention abilities, since just last year the UT System Board of Reg­ents allocated $8 million to hire 11 new officers and two sergeants, open a substation on the Drag, make West Campus a UTPD patrol district, and install new surveillance cameras in the neighborhood.

Vaidya says Hartzell's actions miss the point – that UT needs a better system to provide accurate information and dispel rumors. In response, Newton said, "We actively scan the radio and respond immediately upon hearing an incident." She explained that calls from West Campus are routed first to the Austin Police Depart­ment, not UTPD. "We get alerts out as soon as possible after an incident is confirmed by responding officers ... we did that as fast as we could given the circumstances." She said UTPD's alert system complies with federal Clery Act requirements that the university release timely warnings about reported crimes. In a neighborhood that's seen murders, on-campus stabbings, and numerous other acts of violence over the last few years, students like Vaidya are left to wonder whether complying with the bare minimum of the law is enough.

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West Campus, UT-Austin, University of Texas at Austin, Kushaal Vaidya, UT Police Department, Noelle Newton, Jay Hartzell, UT System Board of Regents

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