The arrest of Amanda Jo Stephen sparked controversy across the Austin community. The viral video and blog, posted shortly after the incident by witness Chris Quintero, details the events of her arrest. “I was doing nothing wrong. I was just crossing the street,” Stephen shouts while sitting limply on the ground in cuffs in the video. After running through the intersection and not responding to APD officers, who attempted to get her attention as passed, the situation took a serious turn. At 10:45 a.m., Stephens was arrested for “failure to obey a pedestrian control device” and “failure to identify” herself after the cops had stopped her. The video of her arrest, which shows Stephens and four other officers, caused a stir in the UT and Austin communities and raised questions for the Austin Police Department.
At a press conference held Friday in response to the arrest, APD police chief Art Acevedo said that APD officers were patrolling the area for a North/West Campus traffic initiative that began Feb. 1. APD officers have received many complaints from residents in those areas regarding people not complying with the pedestrian laws. On Thursday morning, 28 warnings and seven citations were issued. “Our goal is to change behavior and not necessarily to write tickets or take people to jail,” Acevedo said during the conference. Acevedo added that there have been 96 pedestrian deaths and 1,757 injuries reported due to pedestrian traffic violations since 2009.
However, the seriousness of jaywalking has not been reflected in UT Police Department’s statistics. The most frequent crimes documented by UTPD are theft, public intoxication and criminal mischief, according to their 2013 crime statistics. There has been a shortage of citations for jaywalking, and most occur in one day causing a shockwave of distress to pedestrians and students.
Associate Vice President of Safety and Security for UT, Bob Harkins, explains that UT campus and the surrounding area are “two different environments.” “In the university, we have tried to create a pedestrian-orientated campus,” Harkins says.
Harkins says that the UT campus is a small area compared to its population of 53,000 students, 17,000 faculty and 5,000 visitors. He says it is expected for people to cross the street any way that they can, especially between classes when traffic is heavy. He also noted many areas on campus, especially streets, have less car access and more pedestrian-access. “An environment that is in the city, there’s an expectation that pedestrians will stay on the sidewalk,” Harkins says. “[If] all of a sudden, in the middle of the block, where there is no crosswalk, and a person appears — that’s when an accident happens.”
Here are some of the Twitter reactions:
I thought being ticketed for jaywalking was included in our tuition at UT….because, you know, EVERYONE DOES IT!
— Courtney Nielsen (@crtnyanne) February 20, 2014
Saw 4 students @ different intersections get tickets for jaywalking today lol UT friends: DON’T JAYWALK, esp not today
— Laura Martinez (@laura_m_25) February 20, 2014
We all know that as soon as the cops leave UT students will be jaywalking again — Priscilla Valdez (@PriscillaJo_) February 20, 2014
not sure which is more alarming: a girl getting arrested for jaywalking at UT or how many people are spelling jaywalking wrong. — Lindsay Leyden (@lindsayle) February 20, 2014
— Julie Wilson (@Miss_JDub) February 20, 2014
I will stop jaywalking when bicyclists stop at stop signs and ride in the bike lane this city paved for them.
— Karli (@karli_brynn) February 20, 2014
The situation became a bit stickier when Acevedo made a comment in a press conference about APD’s handling of the situation. Many took offense at this part of his response to the incident: “In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.”
Acevedo later apologized online, however he had already caused a controversy:
So, students, pedestrians and Austinites alike: Be careful and be aware. Look both ways before crossing the street, use the crosswalk and, if you are going to jaywalk, make sure you’re on campus.