The men and women in blue patrol from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., a 12-hour commitment.
"If I'm asleep by 8 [a.m.], I try to get up by 3 [p.m.] so I have a couple hours to do stuff," said Officer Mathews, my assigned patrol-mate. "I'm normally here about 6:15, 6:30 [p.m.] to get ready for shift. That's me leaving my house about 5:45. So I get up at 3 so I can have a little bit of a day."
The conversation above took place at Oscar's Taco Shop before the shift began. Mathews said one of his favorite, preshift meals is their chicken fries, which he classified as "really good, but really bad."
After the snack, we headed for one of UTPD's new patrol cars, ready to begin Mathews' last shift before the weekend.
Mathews' explained the 2-2-3 schedule; each patrol officer works two days on, then two days off, then three days on, repeating the numbers throughout the week. Sometimes, like this week for Mathews, the off days fall on the weekend.
"I'll stay up all day Friday, hang out by the pool ... sometimes I like to go hiking," Mathews explained. "Or I'll try to catch an hour nap midday when there's nothing else going out."
On his long week, however, when he only has Wednesday and Thursday off, Mathews said he maintains his nocturnal schedule.
"Like I'll go work out, come home and do laundry, get stuff done around the house, just stuff I can do without waking any of my roommates up," he explained. "Play videogames, use my computer, and hit the bed."
Perhaps a result of the nocturnal lifestyle they share, Mathews said he is pretty good friends with his shift mates.
"Part of it is that we have the same days off," he said. "It's easy to just call each other up and see what's going on. Whether it's going to Hooters to grab a drink or going hiking...just doing something."
Mathews explained to me that the training process was extensive. Each hopeful cop-to-be must submit a background check and a physical; if the department feels you are a qualified candidate, then the testing process begins.
"It's essentially like a mental capacity test," Mathews said. "They'll give you the definition of burglary vs. robbery, and the next five or six questions will be like, 'This is what happened: what is it, a burglary or a robbery?'"
The testing extends to a typing evaluation to ensure the potential officer can type at least 26 words per minute. Mathews said that, because all of the reports are computer based, the department wants to ensure that the officer does not spend all day typing reports.
The physical test is perhaps the most rigorous obstacle, requiring each applicant to perform as many sit-ups and pushups as they could in 60 seconds. They also have to run 1.5 miles and sprint 300 meters within a certain time, adjusted by age brackets.
"For the most part, it's at least a couple months long," Mathews said. "This last group we hired six or seven, and we had 114 applications for seven positions."
The job requires at least a high school diploma or GED, although Mathews has his bachelor's degree from UT in sociology focused on criminal justice.
After graduating from UT in 2011, Mathews said he saw the job opening and applied.
Despite the intense application process, he said the job just fell in his lap.
"When I was a student at UT, I didn't think much of UTPD," Mathews said. "Actually getting in the job and seeing everything that's done is eye-opening, really."
I asked him if he had always wanted to be a university police officer.
"I've always been really meticulous, pay-attention-to-details-type," Mathews said.
Quotes from the
Officer Zach Mathews
On escort rides:
"We don't do a lot of the escorts. I know that's one of the myths about us – 'Oh, call UTPD, they'll give you a ride if you're drunk.' We'll give you a ride somewhere but it may not be where you wanna go."
"After the incident that we had at PIKE, everything died down pretty heavily. As a mid-20s guy, I understand completely where they're coming from; when I get with my friends, we do some stupid stuff sometimes. It's just a matter of when and where you do your stupid stuff. If you're somewhere where you're not supposed to have alcohol, well if you get in trouble for having alcohol who's fault is it? It's nothing personal against fraternity guys, I'm just doing my job."
"You're not supposed to jump from sidewalk to street. If you're on a bike, if you roll up to a red light, all you have to do is stop and make sure nothing is coming. You can treat a red light like a stop sign. You don't have enough weight to trigger the sensor."
"Noise ordinance is anything that can be heard in excess of 50 feet. So you've got probable cause to go up and talk to them. Reasonable suspicion would be, there's a lot of people going in and out of the house. There might not be a lot of music, you might not see a lot of people outside of the house, but you see people freely going in and out of the house. It's not illegal to party, it's just that a lot of times those things tend to get out of hand. That's the whole purpose of the reasonable suspicion thing, just that you watch it so it doesn't get out of hand."