March 24, 2017
In April 2016, The University of Texas at Austin community was devastated by the murder of Haruka Weiser, a College of Fine Arts freshman. Safety and security have always been top priorities for the university, and Ms. Weiser’s death was the first murder on campus in nearly five decades. It reminded the community that the Forty Acres are not immune from such horrific acts and that university leadership must continually reassess security and take additional steps to protect students, employees and visitors.
In the days after the crime, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves requested that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) conduct a security vulnerability assessment of the main campus and the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Between April and July 2016, DPS personnel reviewed documentation, interviewed university personnel, and visited locations on and off campus.
In August 2016, DPS delivered a series of reports to President Fenves. He accepted the findings and directed UT Austin’s Executive Compliance Committee (ECC), which he chairs, to assess the recommendations and develop a strategy to continue to improve campus safety.
The reports were principally organized by “zones”:
- Main campus buildings and outdoor space
- Housing facilities
- Waller Creek
- Pickle Research Campus
- University of Texas Police Department
The recommendations centered around subject matters such as:
- additional lighting
- video cameras
- police presence
- emergency call boxes
- building access
- personal awareness training
- nighttime transportation
- apps for mobile phones technology solutions
- the transient population
Implementation of the DPS recommendations was central to the university’s coordinated efforts to improve public safety. These efforts also included ongoing collaboration with city officials and police in the neighborhoods west of campus, and the rollout of the “Be Safe” public awareness campaign.
In January 2017, the ECC completed its analysis of the DPS reports and approved a long-term strategy to make the campus safer and more secure. It includes some details and actions that may be deemed “Law Enforcement Sensitive.” For that reason, it cannot be made public until the university reviews any requests it receives for its release with both the University of Texas System’s Office of General Counsel and Office of the Attorney General.
The strategy includes the elements listed below. The university had already taken steps beginning in April 2016 to implement some of these elements. Some of them are complete; others are still in progress.
- Commission a comprehensive lighting assessment to determine compliance with industry standards, and identify areas for improved safety.
- Group and prioritize buildings by risk (e.g., housing, general purpose classroom buildings, parking garages, other academic and administrative buildings, other publicly and non-publicly accessible buildings), and develop a multi-year plan that addresses the current and future risk at each location (e.g., building access, lighting, cameras, landscaping, etc.).
- Identify pathways by which students, faculty and staff traverse campus and off-campus areas, and develop a multi-year plan that addresses the current and future pathway risk, including lighting, landscaping, emergency call boxes, cameras, and police presence.
- Ensure that all actions taken to implement the DPS findings and other suggestions for improvement do not hinder the public nature, openness and inclusiveness of the campus, and do not lessen or negatively impact the university’s core mission and values including academic freedom, free speech and the open and unfettered exchange of ideas.
- Develop a multi-year plan that strategically addresses current and future risks, including assessing the effectiveness of actions taken in 2016 and 2017 before engaging in additional actions in 2018 and beyond.
- Develop short-term and long-term police presence and police facilities plans.
- Develop and implement additional nighttime walking and transportation options for students, faculty and staff.
- Work with local officials to promote safety in areas near campus where transients may congregate, and ensure that the university’s efforts to promote safety on campus do not simply shift problems off campus.
- Enhance the existing safety awareness campaign that is directed toward students, faculty and staff, and intended to reduce the risk of personal harm.
- Create progress reports that accurately reflect project results, and create a plan for sharing information with the campus community.
The University of Texas at Austin strives to be a campus where all students, employees and visitors are safe. University leadership is committed to achieving this goal by implementing the DPS recommendations, continuing other ongoing efforts and maintaining strong communication with the campus community.