When even alert people can become disoriented in parking garages and parking lots, it opens opportunities for criminals to strike. Despite a rash of incidents, crime reported from UT campus garages/lots has decreased overall in 2022. Our community, however, should remain vigilant on campus.
In 2022, UT Police issued a number of Timely Warnings on auto theft incidents that were reported in our garages and lots as required under the CLERY Act. Timely Warnings, which are distributed to work-issued phones and email, are triggered when a crime such as a robbery, sex offense, auto theft, or homicide presents a serious or continuing threat to students and employees.
UT Police’s approach to addressing safety issues in parking garages/lots is based on both incidents reported and risk assessment data.
“We use data to drive our decisions, not only where to put our officers and investigate crimes, but also how to get out in front of crime,” Police Captain Doran Preacher said. Efforts include increasing patrol presence by uniformed and plain-clothed officers, and designating public safety officers to patrol garages/lots. “In recent years since the pandemic, we have seen vehicle crimes on the rise in areas surrounding the Texas Medical Center. We have worked diligently to keep these trends away from our beats.”
To further curtain vehicular thefts, the department also stations camera trailers at strategic locations based on data, crime trends and opportunity for crime and works closely with facilities teams on more permanent safety measures such as the placement of barriers to limit access to certain garage entrances and exits. In addition, upgrades to camera equipment have helped our team conduct ‘virtual patrols’ where staffing is otherwise unavailable, giving UT Police a broader scale of coverage.
UT Police works with surrounding agencies and an area vehicle crime task force to thoroughly investigate any incidents that occur and ensure suspects are identified and brought to justice.
“We have seen some success in our investigations of crimes in garages and have provided key information to large surrounding agencies who can apply large resources to disrupt criminal enterprises,” said Inspector Covell Johnson, who oversees the Criminal Investigations team. “We work hard so the crime will not occur at all. But when it does occur, we work just as hard to ensure key evidence leads to an arrest. Often, it leads to a domino of arrests regionally.”
In March 2022, UT Police disrupted catalytic converter thefts in an MD Anderson-owned garage leading to the arrest of 3 suspects. When confronted, the suspects had in their possession a handsaw and a car jack, known tools for dismantling a catalytic converter. This type of crime can occur in less than a minute. The Houston Police Department has released an informative video on how to prevent catalytic converter theft.
“There are precautions we all should take when we are walking through a parking garage or parking lot – even if it is in an area you are familiar with,” Inspector Johnson advises. “Everyone should participate in your own safety by being alert and prepared and paying attention to your surroundings.”
MD Anderson employees are encouraged to review the safety spotlight video on campus safety given by UT Police.
There are precautions that can improve safety when walking through a parking garage or parking lot, even if it's in an area you are familiar with.
- Stay alert and prepared. It’s easy to get distracted walking to your car in the age of smart devices. Talking on the phone, texting and listening to music are distractions and take your attention away from your surroundings. If an attacker is hiding in the garage or behind parked vehicles and sees that you are unaware of their presence because you’re on your phone, it makes you an easy target. Stay in well-lit areas and use walkways or crosswalks whenever possible. Keep your keys out and don’t linger once you’re in your vehicle.
- Park near an entrance/exit. Park as near to an entrance or exit as you can. The closer you are, the less time you’ll have to spend walking through the lot or garage. Choose a well-lit spot. Note where you’re parked. Write it down or take a quick photo of the section or row number. You don’t want to be wandering around looking for your car when it’s time to leave.
- Walk with a buddy. When possible, walk through a parking garage with at least one other person. Walking by yourself may make you an easier target, especially if you look timid or lost. Walking with a group provides more safety for yourself and your colleagues if an attacker is in the vicinity.
Based on availability, UT Police also offers safety escorts for community members who have safety concerns. The service offers transportation to locations beginning and ending at a building location, including parking garages and parking lots owned or operated by MD Anderson and UTHealth Houston in the Texas Medical Center.