The UT Police Department is gearing up to hire nearly two dozen new officers to begin working on campus by next fall, almost three years after chief of police David Carter first began pushing for an increase.
Before Carter began as chief of police in 2013, UTPD was authorized a maximum of 67 officers and had been at that number for more than 40 years. Carter has since worked to authorize 99 officers for the department, UTPD Recruiting Sgt. Jimmy Moore said.
While the increase in personnel was officially approved more than a year ago, hiring new personnel can take up to a year or more, Moore said. UTPD has increased to 78 officers since 2013, all of whom are currently operating on campus. Thirteen new cadets, who will begin next fall, are currently in training. The remaining eight vacancies will be filled by lateral transfers, or individuals who have prior experience in law enforcement.
“Whether they’re a transfer with experience or a new guy going into the academy, it takes a while to train and to teach new officers the rules and procedures for UTPD,” Moore said. “We have to allow for a few months for that to happen. It can be taxing.”
For new recruits, Moore opens up the job a full year before the cadets begin working on campus in order to select and enroll them in the UT System Police Academy in January. After completing a 19-week program there, cadets work on campus side-by-side with a UTPD training officer for an additional 17 weeks before they begin working alone on campus.
For both new cadets and recruits, applicants are heavily vetted before being hired, Moore said.
“You really have to scrutinize them, because we want to make sure they’re a good fit for our department,” Moore said. “It’s a student-rich environment, and that’s who we primarily serve in this community. We want to make sure we’re hiring good people.”
UTPD’s presence on campus has become a heavily discussed topic since the death of dance freshman Haruka Weiser last April. Some students, such as computer science sophomore Sophie Nguyen, feel some areas of campus could use a greater police presence.
“The arrangement of officers on campus would make people feel safer more than just an increased number of officers in the usual places would,” Nguyen said. “There are lots of areas on campus right now where you almost never see them.”
President Gregory Fenves and other university officials have identified the need for increased police patrols in several safety plans discussed since last April.
“I’ve never seen a police officer just walking around on campus outside of their car, and I would definitely feel safer if more officers on campus let them do that,” chemistry sophomore Janaleen Domingo said. “Eighty or 90 officers on a campus of 50,000 just seems small. A student could easily be somewhere where the 80 officers aren’t around, and that’s when something bad could happen.”
UTPD hopes to increase their numbers beyond 99 officers in the coming years, Moore said.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we get approved for even more hires as mentioned by (Fenves),” Moore said. “Other universities that are smaller, they are staffed with even more officers than us. For a university of this size, we need the numbers. It’s just time to grow.”