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The History of UHPD

In its current configuration, The University of Houston Police Department is a model of modern police operation and public safety best practices. UHPD employs skilled investigators and emergency responders. Reports are entered in the field via computer, and information about campus crime is available to the community soon after crimes are committed through crime alerts and daily crime bulletins. A system of over 2,300 cameras around campus is monitored 24 hours a day. The history of the department, however, attests to humbler times.

Chief Sterling Baker with an officer, 1960sThe department began as the Traffic and Security (T&S) department, with police officer commissions being carried by the Houston Police Department. Officers attended the Houston Police Academy, and donned uniforms of baby blue shirts and navy blue pants to match those of HPD, with the exception of Sergeants who wore black pants and white dress shirts, and police administrators who wore sports coats of cougar red.

Two UH Traffic & Security officers, 1960sIn the late 60s with the unease surrounding the Vietnam War and increasing student activism, T&S had to be versatile. It was armed in times of unrest and unarmed at times of calm. The potential for civil unrest required riot gear be always available and ready to deploy. Also during that era, in August of 1966 at the campus of UT Austin, a student named Charles Whitman ascended the Main Building Tower with a trunk full of high powered firearms, killing 15 and wounded 31. It was this incident that made it clear that there was a specific need to increase University security and the ability to respond to acts of violence on campuses. 8 months later on April 27th, 1967 Senate Bill 162 went into effect, authorizing university campuses in Texas to commission their own police officer personnel. On September 5th of that same year, the Board of Regents approved the commissions of the 18 police officers.

UHPD officer on a 3-wheeled motorcycle, 1970sThe department still made use of the Houston Police academy until 1970 when the Houston Police Department decided it was no longer going to allow other police departments to attend. They even asked that UH not rely on the academy graduate certifications previously issued. So UH put together a group of instructors from off campus and put the entire department through a mini police academy in order to re-certify the officers. After that, future officers would come from the Harris County Sheriff's Office academy and other police academies. In 1975 as the department continued to grow, the name was changed from Traffic and Security to the University of Houston Police Department. A couple of decades later you would still hear a veteran professor refer to "T&S." But at that time the department still held on to it’s UH identity with red and white police cars, and patrolling in Cushman three wheeled carts, yet relying on HPD’s uniform appearance for police recognition. In the late 70s and early 80s the department further continued its separation from the HPD. They went to solid white police cars. The uniforms were changed to French blue shirts. The carts were abandoned as the department continued to move toward its own identity. It’s ironic that later on, HPD and most other area police departments changed to white police cars also.

UHPD brochure cover, 1970s The Traffic and Security Building in the 60s was located next to what is now the Burdette Keeland, Jr. Design Exploration Center on UH Entrance 18. In the early 70s the police moved to the front of the General Services Building and at that time was combined with the Parking Department. This location often made emergency response difficult when there were heavy rains as Elgin held high water easily, as it does to this day. As the department grew, so did Facilities, Planning and Construction, which was housed upstairs from the Police Department, necessitating another move. The Industrial Relations Building, located where the Graduate College of Social Work now stands was cut in half and moved to entrance 11. This was the Police Building until 2000 when UHPD had their first building built specifically for them at 3869 Wheeler, which was changed to 4051 Wheeler in July 2015 in a campus address reorganization.

In 2002 the Security Services Division was formed within the Police Department to address the growing number of security officers working alongside the police officers. In 2003, the Police Department was joined with the Parking Enforcement Division, and the Fire Marshal’s office to form the University of Houston Department of Public Safety (UHDPS). Later, UHPD took on the role of coordinating emergency management for the University, and eventually hired the University's first Director of Emergency Management, eventually forming the Office of Emergency Management. Eventually, the police department split from the other units, becoming the University of Police Department once again, while the other units became Campus Safety.

UHPD currently employs 66 comissioned peace officers, 94 security officers, 12 dispatchers, and a number of support staff.