Mar. 26—DWIs, burglaries, fights. During their 12-hour shifts, police officers at the University of Texas Permian Basin handle the same sorts of calls as officers in any other jurisdictions. There is one major difference though, said Chief Tom Hain.
Officers who join the force from other jurisdictions actually suffer from “culture shock,” Hain said.
“They come here and when they are out in the parking lot or they’re walking in a hallway, people speak to them and wave to them. They’re perceived in a really, really positive manner. And UTPB is really like one big family,” Hain said. “I don’t think our students perceive us as a threat. In the conversations I’ve had over the years with students and professors. I think they realize we’re here more for their protection than anything.”
UTPB is basically a small town, surrounded by a big community, he said.
“One of our officers put it this way, he said, ‘We’re like a little island in the middle of a sea of sharks and we keep the sharks at bay, so it’s very positive,” Hain said.
Hain, who has been in law enforcement for 38 years, became the UTPB police chief 14 years ago. When he started, the force had nine officers. Nowadays, he has a budget for 20 officers and 15 of those positions are filled.
Like all law enforcement agencies, the department is having trouble filling open positions due to the negative perception many in the public have of officers, low pay, the hours and the danger.
Hain and all of the other chiefs in the University of Texas chain are having to change their recruitment tactics. Fourteen years ago he used to be able to tell job candidates and their spouses they stood a much better chance of coming home from work unscathed than if they worked for the Odessa Police Department or the Ector County Sheriff’s Office.
“In the last 14 years, that’s kind of changed because out of the top four or five places that you’re most likely to have an active shooter or an active threat, we’re two of them. A college university campus and workplace,” Hain said.
What he can tell them, however, is his officers are well-trained and well-supported. New officers can attend the University of Texas’ police academy in Austin or the regional police academy, he said. They also go through a field training program.
If there’s ever a significant threat on the UTPB campus, his officers can fully expect officers from OPD and ECSO to provide back-up along with officers from Odessa College and the Ector County Independent School District. The reverse is also true.
“We’re all police officers, and when something tragic or devastating, some threat happens to the community, we all respond,” Hain said. “You know if an officer is shot we all respond to that scene. If somebody in the school district or the hospital has an active threat or an active shooter, we’re all going to respond just like we do for OPD, the sheriff’s office, DPS and they’re all going to come here. We all train together for that.”
As for recruitment efforts, the UT system is starting to review many of the same requirements as other agencies. Some agencies have begun loosening up on college requirements, tattoo policies and facial hair, Hain said. Some departments are also becoming less militant when it comes to uniforms and disciplinary measures, too.
For example, UT officers no longer have to wear hard badges and names plates; they’ve gone to patches.
“The chiefs all together, there’s 14 different component police chiefs, the 14 of us, along with the director are reexamining the facial hair issue, so I think in the next five or six months there’s a good possibility we’ll probably allow facial hair,” Hain said.
UTPB’s on-campus housing can serve up to 1,200 students and another 150 staff members, but the department also provides police protection to the Midland campus at FM1788 and Highway 191 and the UT land office in downtown Midland, Hain said. Because of the travel involved, he’d love to have a police force of 25 officers.
The university has students living on-campus year-round, Hain said.
In 2021, the university’s officers responded to just shy of 3,500 calls and the number of calls during the summer months typically stay at the same level as the rest of the year, said Sgt. Travis Fraser.
“It’s almost like apartment complexes in our dorm rooms and they are honestly set up like apartments and I think that’s why they’re so attractive to our students. It’s more of an independent living, it’s set up like an apartment and we get domestics, we get loud music calls. We get fight calls, just your typical thing that you would get in a residential area. We get thefts, burglaries,” Hain said.
The department also arrests a fair number of people who are driving while intoxicated, he said.
When he first arrived, people who had been drinking would routinely cut across campus instead of driving down 42nd Street falsely believing the university was private property and they couldn’t be arrested by DPS or OPD, Hain said.
“They felt like they had safe passage. Well, we were having a lot of hit and run accidents. People were running over trees and light poles and hitting cars and they’d leave the scene. We were having a lot of DWIs on campus. We had fences, just a lot of damage. We were finding bullet holes in windows of some of our academic buildings and things and so the president at the time was really looking for a way to basically stop the problem,” Hain said.
Hain said he and the police director in Austin decided UTPB officers would start patrolling the campus perimeter and it’s worked.
“It has really, really suppressed crime on this campus. I mean, usually suppressed crime on the campus, in all aspects. Car burglaries and vandalism, not to mention hit and run accidents and DWIs on the campus. I think it also let the community know that we had the authority to police the perimeter and make arrests and write tickets on the perimeter which I don’t think a whole lot of people knew years ago.”
While Andrews Highway, West County Road and Dixie Boulevard may look the same as the 90s, the area around the college has seen an explosion of bars, motels and apartments and OPD is kept really busy, particularly on weekends, Hain said. His officers have helped to fill the gap.
Still, Hain said, the UTPB campus will always remain his officers’ priority.
Hain said he’s proud of his officers and believes they maintain a good reputation amongst the students and staff.
“We’re always fair and just with people. We treat the students like we would treat a regular citizen. If we would make an arrest on a regular citizen for it, we would arrest the student. If we’d write a citation to a citizen then we’ll issue a citation to a student.”
Typically, a handful of students will test the boundaries out their first month on campus, but they quickly realize problems will be dealt with quickly, Hain said.
“The problems disappear and it’s been that way for 14 years. We’ve really had good groups of students and that has kept all sorts of issues like sexual assaults at bay because we really do police student housing pretty closely at night,” he said.
The department also has a CrimeStoppers program and an emergency alert system. In addition, students can participate in the Live Safe program, which allows them to let dispatchers know if they are traveling on campus at night. If they fail to check in when they arrive to their destination, officers are dispatched to find them, Hain said.