U rightly shifts stance on alerts

The University of Minnesota announced Wednesday morning that it will modify its crime alert policy after more than a year of scrutiny for how the messages can perpetuate racism and stereotyping, particularly harming young black men.

Under the change, Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock and the police chief will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether there’s enough information to include a suspect description when a crime alert is sent.

This change is just one of many steps the University must take to make all its students feel comfortable on campus. But effective reform takes time, so we are pleased to see the University finally take this action.

The Minnesota Daily’s newsroom uses a similar policy to the University’s new one when reporting on crime. As evident in the Daily’s pages and those of other major newspapers, suspect descriptions are almost always too vague to be helpful.

Sufficiently broad policies allowing for case-by-case decisions can be effective, but they require great care.

In a crime alert sent Monday, the University listed a suspect as having spoken “with an accent” without any indication as to what that manner of speaking may have been. This exemplifies a detail that does more harm than good in keeping the community safe — the opposite effect the alerts should have.

As the University continues with its new, improved policy, we urge officials to err on the side of not using suspect descriptions unless they could clearly benefit to campus safety.