AUSTIN, Texas—A final report by The University of Texas Police Department Oversight Committee has concluded there do not appear to be major problems in the relationship between the university community and The University of Texas Police Department (UTPD) but found a need for greater efforts by the department to communicate effectively with the community, especially with students.
Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, released the report and responded Monday, Nov. 29 to the document he received in June from the 12-member committee composed of faculty, staff and students.
Faulkner said he would refer each of the recommendations to various university administrators for appropriate action. He said the report by the 2003-04 committee will be the starting point for the 2004-05 Police Oversight Committee, which will be chaired by Dr. Shelley Payne, the Lorene Morrow Kelley Fellow in Microbiology and Distinguished Teaching Professor.
The report made recommendations on the demographics of the UTPD, police recruitment, training, supervision on processing complaints, community policing, racial profiling and policing celebratory rioting or post-game violence. It urged the continuation of an oversight committee to help the UTPD pursue important goals and to serve as a forum for communication between the department and the community. The report also recommended staggered terms by committee members to achieve the advantages of continuity.
Faulkner created The University of Texas Police Department Oversight Committee in July 2003 to serve as the principal institutional channel of communication between members of the university community and The University of Texas at Austin Police Department. Faulkner’s decision to create the police oversight committee followed an earlier report by the university’s Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness, which had raised issues about alleged police misconduct, and questioned procedures such as racial profiling.
The University of Texas Police Department Oversight Committee report acknowledges there have been incidents of police-community interaction “perceived by some as displaying insensitivity on the part of officers to the proper exercise of the authority with which they are entrusted” but that such charges seem to be infrequent. The report said that when such incidents occur, they appear to be addressed by the UTPD and the responsible administrators with care and a commitment to minimizing their incidence, especially the incidence of apparent discrimination or insensitivity.
“In this connection, it is worthy of note that members of the committee who have observed the operations of UTPD over time indicated their belief that the department’s sensitivity to these issues has been improving,” the report said.
One observation by the committee was that the population of the university community is so disproportionately young the UTPD may face special problems associated with the greater tendency of young adults to react adversely to authority. Moreover, it said, the university’s admirable commitment to achieve a student population more reflective of the makeup of Texas reinforces the need for the sensitivity training that already is a part of the University of Texas System police academy program, and on-going training.
The report said the leadership of the university’s police department appears to be committed to the values that should guide the exercise of authority in an increasingly diverse academic community. It said this commitment is reflected in the processes of recruitment, training and supervision of the UTPD.
“We strongly believe UTPD deserves the appreciation and support of the community as well as oversight designed to further the goals which are shared by both the community and the UTPD,” the report said. It emphasized the importance, however, of finding and developing lines of communication between UTPD and the university community, especially with students. It said the communication should convey the department’s commitment to the values of enhancedcross-cultural understanding.
“A high priority must be the correction of possible misconceptions about the role and values of the department as demonstrated by the recruitment, training and behavior of our officers,” the report said. It said the Community Oriented Policing program has been especially promising in providing better communication.
Among the committee’s observations and recommendations were:
Demographics of UTPD: The racial and ethnic makeup of UTPD closely approximates that of the relevant labor pool and that of the university staff. The committee recommended a continued commitment, expressed in a specific recruitment plan, designed to ensure having UTPD reflect the community it serves.
Recruitment: Several recommendations were made to recruit qualified people, including seeking honorably discharged military service personnel.
Training: This is expected to be the major focus for the 2004-05 committee. Recommendations included:
- Use actual incidents of alleged police misconduct on campus as exercises during training.
- Strive to have a proportionate sample of instructors and staff drawn from underrepresented groups and women.
- Consider the possible use of the Diversity Institute and students in training. The opportunity for student participation might provide an attractive means for involving student leaders, particularly those of underrepresented groups, to cooperate with UTPD. The Multicultural Information Center may be helpful in identifying and preparing students for such participation, the committee said.
Supervision: The committee was frequently told that there were severe legal or policy limits on the sharing of information regarding internal investigations and disposition. The committee believes a major goal should be to achieve the greatest level of transparency possible in the processing of complaints. It believes this will help to create the respect the UTPD can and should command within the community it serves. The committee recommended that the Office of University Counsel determine “whether the achievement of this goal of greater transparency can be achieved consistent with existing legal/policy restrictions” and asked that it consult with next year’s oversight committee as to its findings.
Community Policing: The Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program has made a favorable impression as a means of involving the department with the community in a positive manner. The program, however, exists by virtue of a federal grant with a decreasing payout schedule with payment ending in two years. The committee urges an examination of whether, relative to other UTPD needs, replacement resources are available or can be found to continue the program. Other recommendations on community policing include inviting university community leaders to ride with police, having police participate in freshman events and activities, having an event recognizing the contributions of police to the community and encouraging officers to pursue studies on campus through the staff education benefit program.
Racial Profiling: State laws prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and require the collection of statistics about certain common forms of police/civilian interactions. The police reports on vehicle stops do not suggest racial profiling. No data were provided on pedestrian stops, which appear to be a more significant source of complaint and resentment. The committee was told that the collection and analysis by race/ethnicity/gender would be very time consuming. The committee recommended continued efforts to obtain information on pedestrian stops. It said that although preparing a statistical analysis of the demographics of such stops may require the devotion of significant time, the information is very important for both UTPD and for reassuring the university community.
Policing Celebratory Rioting or Post-Game Violence: The committee did not address this issue but the experience on other campuses suggests it is worthy of the attention of the new oversight committee.
Copies of Faulkner’s response and of the 2003-04 committee report signed by Professor M. Michael Sharlot, the committee chairman, are available online at http://www.utexas.edu/president/speeches/utpd_report_061704.pdf [PDF, download Adobe reader]. Other committee members are Patricia Clubb, vice president for employee and campus services; Kyle Cavanaugh, associate vice president for human resource services; Luther Johnson, assistant director of human resource services; Katie King, a law student and former Student Government president; Linda Millstone, director of Equal Opportunity Services; Peggy Mueller, professional librarian and secretary of the Staff Council; Gus Perez and Verick Cornett, Student Government representatives; Edward Odell, mathematics professor; Alba Ortiz, director of the Office of Bilingual Education; and UTPD Chief Jeff Van Slyke, who was a non-voting member.
For more information contact: Don Hale, 512-471-3151, or Robert D. Meckel, 512-475-7847, Office of Public Affairs.