Campus Watch

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.”

Officer Darrell Halstead, primary writer of the Campus Watch emails, notifies students, faculty and staff of crimes occurring near and on campus. Halstead engages readers by adding sarcastic and humourous remarks to the informational emails.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Crime Prevention is a job that requires vigilance, patience and a dry sense of humor. For Darrell Halstead, the primary writer of Campus Watch, abating the threat of public intoxication, traffic cone theft and West Campus groping comes one sarcastic blurb at a time. Officer Halstead talks to The Daily Texan about his Campus Watch reports.

The Daily Texan: Is the snark something that was present in the original logs, or did it develop over time? 
Officer Darrell Halstead: No, no. We started the Campus Watch off in 1999. The sergeant that I had in this office with me was all about the facts. Just the facts. The Campus Watch was very dull, very dry. Then he retired, and I started interjecting some of that sarcasm, some of that snark, and poking fun at people, but not poking fun at them as an individual. There were a few sergeants that said, “Oh no, we can’t do that.” But the chief said, “Let’s give this a try.” And it just kind of evolved into what it is today, where it’s chock-full of a lot of crime prevention information, but at the same time it’s written in a humorous way to keep you coming back.

DT: What was the motivation to start writing the Campus Watch?
Halstead: After the Clery Act was passed in 1991, all campuses have been required to disclose their crime statistics on a yearly basis. On October 1, we released last year’s crime statistics. We then have to wait until October [of next year] to release the new crime stats. It doesn’t do any good, to be honest, to wait that long. Even though the Campus Watch is not a supplement to the Clery Act, the folks that enforce the Clery Act have looked at this as a way of disseminating day-to-day business and have recommended it to other universities as well.

DT: How does your job in Crime Prevention correlate to the Campus Watch?
Halstead: Basically, we’re taking everything that we’ve learned about: locks, windows, doors, lighting, landscaping, denying opportunity, reducing risk, delaying the thief, deterring the thief. We’re incorporating all of that into the Campus Watch whenever we get a chance to put in a crime prevention piece. And we do. We’re not kidding when there are very simple things you can do to reduce threats.

DT: What is the most common crime on campus?
Halstead: Theft. It’s the most common crime here. With 52,000 students, there are 52,000 opportunities for someone to commit a crime. But if you look at UT compared to the entire city of Austin, we don’t have nearly the same number of problems that surround us. We do a good job.

DT: Is theft preventable? 
Halstead: It takes three things for a criminal to be successful: desire, ability and opportunity. We can’t do anything about their desire or ability. That’s all personal. But we can eliminate the opportunity. By leaving anything unlocked, you’re creating an opportunity.

DT: What’s one of the most problematic areas on campus?
Halstead: Gregory Gym. We’ve gone in there, replaced the lockers and locked their stuff up. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the staff putting up signage, but still Gregory Gym remains in the top five. It’s a revolving door.

DT: How many volts are in a tazer?
Halstead: I think somewhere around 250,000 volts. I’ve done it three times. Do you want to be tazed?

DT: Let’s stay on topic. What is your favorite part of the job?
Halstead: I’ve been working here for 25 years. I still enjoy putting bad guys in jail, and I still get a kick out of chasing someone down. But I get a bigger kick out of meeting a freshman, and then five years down the road having them come back and say, “Hey Officer Halstead, none of my stuff got stolen, had a great time here, learned a lot from the Campus Watch.”

DT: What does the future look like for Campus Watch? 
Halstead: It’s always evolving and changing. The stories pretty much write themselves. But sometimes it’s better to create a good description of something rather than saying, “someone’s peeing” or “someone’s puking.” Create a little visual for that, and leave it to the reader’s imagination. But we’ve got eight or nine programs in Crime Prevention that we do now, all of which promote the Campus Watch, expanding the number of readers as best as we can.

DT: What do you do when off duty?
Halstead: I definitely like to go out to the lakes and go fishing. When it’s dove season, [I] go out and do some bird-hunting.

DT: Are police officers ever off duty?
Halstead: No. 

Printed on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 as: Officer provides insight with side of sarcasm