Alerts a lengthy process

The University has a multistep system in place to alert students about crimes.

Elizabeth Cook

University police sent a crime alert Monday to all University students, faculty and staff members regarding an armed robbery that took place Friday night.

Shortly after 10 p.m., a student was outside near Shevlin Hall when one to four men approached him, showed a handgun and demanded the student’s wallet and cell phone, according to the alert.

When serious crimes are committed on campus, the University has a multistep system in place to alert students as quickly as possible. Sometimes, this process takes a few days.

Lori-Anne Williams, the communications director for University Services, described the process.

To send out an alert, first Police Chief Greg Hestness has to be informed of the crime. In this specific incident, Hestness said he was not told of the robbery until Sunday.

After Hestness knows about the crime, he talks with his boss, Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services, and the alert is written up. Once it is approved by a University vice president or someone with equal or higher ranking, the alert is sent to the Office of Information Technology for review. This was done Monday.

After the Office of Information Technology, the Office of University Relations is notified that the alert will be going out.

Finally, the alert is sent to all students, faculty and staff members via their University e-mail accounts.

Unfortunately, Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University police, said, there isn’t a quicker system for sending out alerts.

Hestness said alerts are “something used sparingly enough to grab people’s attention.”

Of the 45 robberies reported in and around campus since Sept. 1, police sent alerts to the University community for two, Johnson said. Both cases involved weapons.

Nine of those 45 were business robberies, nine occurred on the West Bank and 27 occurred in surrounding neighborhoods and on campus. Six of those 45 have University case numbers, even though only four occurred on campus, Johnson said.

The other incident for which an alert was issued occurred Oct. 13, when two students were robbed of a digital camera at knifepoint.

Students weren’t notified about the Friday night robbery until Monday for a number of reasons.

One reason is that this alert was a collection of incidents that have taken place since the beginning of the year, Johnson said.

“We put it together as soon as the chief and I got together,” Johnson said.

Another reason is that the records office is not open on the weekends, Johnson said. This is partly due to low staffing.

“We’re trying to get enough staffing to prevent these kinds of crimes,” Johnson said.

While members of the police department generally are available, Hestness said there are still times when they are not.

Hestness said alerts are sent out to protect students and to be in compliance to the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law that is part of the Higher Education Act.

The Jeanne Clery Act was created because of an incident in 1986 at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University, where a student was raped and murdered. After her death, her parents discovered the University was not telling students about all the violent crimes that had occurred on campus.

Now schools must have an annual report, a crime log and timely notices on incidents that take place on campus, Hestness said.

Another armed robbery occurred Nov. 4 near the corner of Essex Street Southeast and Ontario Street Southeast.

The victim said he was walking down the sidewalk when three men approached him; one of them pulled a gun out and asked for his wallet.

The suspects took the victim’s wallet and cell phone and ran from the area.

No suspect was caught.

The reason an alert was not sent out to the University community about this incident was because it occurred in the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 2nd Precinct, Johnson said.

Jim Long, the crime prevention specialist for the 2nd Precinct, said University police and his precinct work closely together investigating patterns of crime.

The 2nd Precinct issued an alert on Tuesday regarding robberies that have been happening in the Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park and University areas.

“We think there’s a pattern,” Long said.

Long said alerts weren’t issued sooner because the precinct does not want to issue them every time an incident happens. That would desensitize people, he said.