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Atkinson: Safe-U alerts do little to create a safe campus

Safe-U, but how safe are they for you, actually?
Image by Sarah Mai

Editor’s Note: Federal law requires the University to send SAFE-U alerts. 

In my few years as a student at the University of Minnesota, I have received countless Safe-U alerts, ranging from carjackings to shootings to assaults to gas leaks and bomb threats.

This system has always seemed a bit odd to me. After all, what could I, a singular student, do about an armed robbery that occurred hours ago? Why do I even need to know about such things in the first place?

I will admit that the idea of Safe-U alerts does make sense – to an extent. Safe-U alerts can be helpful to inform students and staff about certain types of threats, particularly ones regarding dangerous areas on campus, said third-year philosophy student Syd Huntimer.

“There is one alert that directly aids students,” Huntimer said. “Think reporting on gas leaks, fires or bomb threats.”

These kinds of alerts are geared to tell students to avoid a particular area during an active event, which is understandable. One such alert went out last summer about a gas leak on University Avenue. The leak led to a multi-block shutdown while authorities cleared the area. It is important for students and staff to know about these kinds of events because they involve currently active events that interfere with public safety.

Other Safe-U alerts, though, do not accomplish any such safety aims. In fact, I would argue that the Safe-U alerts reporting criminal activity are actually counterproductive. To be living on campus while constantly receiving reports of shootings, robberies and assaults does nothing but make me feel unsafe. It’s fear-mongering at its finest.

“I think hyper-visibility is a keyword here,” Huntimer said. “Most activity reported feels like incidents that affirm projects of ‘clearing’ or making those areas ‘safe.’ Reporting with strong eyes on crimes that happen once a night creates fear about areas around the University.”

In an area as highly policed as the University there are bound to be endless instances of crimes reported. Why, though, do we need to know about them?

The only explanation I can think of for this is to create a sense of need for increased police presence on campus. It is as if these kinds of Safe-U alerts exist only to say, “Look! There is so much crime going on on campus! Don’t you feel afraid? But fear not, dear students! The UMPD is here to save the day! Please, give us more money, guns and military-grade equipment so we can make campus the safest it can be!”

After all, Safe-U alerts are here to keep the U, and you, safe. Right?

Current efforts to cut down on crime include the new Dinkytown Alerts, which launched earlier this month. Unlike the Safe-U alerts, the Dinkytown Alerts are an opt-in system that focuses only on criminal activity in the Dinkytown area.

This is a step in the right direction in only one regard: an opt-in program. If students do wish to be hyper-aware of the crime in their neighborhood, it should be a choice – not a requirement.

One might ask, “What would we do if there were no Safe-U alerts? Just let students roam around campus without knowing about the crimes being committed in their community?”

Yes, I would argue.

This kind of argument reminds me of a 2020 quote from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). A big proponent of defunding the police, AOC was asked what a world without heavy policing would look like, to which she famously replied, “It looks like a suburb.”

Indeed, the stereotypical suburbs are widely considered safe, crime-free and full of middle-class white people.

Part of the reason the University seems like a dangerous, crime-ridden place is because of the frequency of Safe-U alerts. This hyper-visibility of crime on campus only increases fear of crime and encourages pro-cop sentiment.

If we want campus to feel safe, we need to start by cutting down on Safe-U alerts.

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  • Deanna
    Sep 30, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    I appreciate the opinion, but in the two years I’ve been a U student the alerts have told me there is a problem with thefts, peeping, threats, and shootings….and it hasn’t gotten better. All one has to do is live in the twin cities around the area to know this. Yes…all alerts should be opt in, theoretically. What if, say such alerts were opt in and then there are complaints that the student body feels unsafe AND uninformed? Or that there are serious injuries or even death because people are uninformed? I’m pretty sure defunding does little to help a community, and throwing a bandaid on the problems by promising to ramp up protection is…just a band aid.

  • Enn Arre
    Sep 30, 2022 at 1:17 pm

    Just in case you don’t bother googling :

    Jeanne Clery :
    In 1986, freshman Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her own campus residence. The event led to increased attention on unreported crimes on numerous college campuses across the country. In 1990, Congress enacted the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The Act has been amended five times since enactment to include increased safety and reporting measures, most recently in 2013.

    Fearmongering, or scaremongering, is a form of manipulation that causes fear by using exaggerated rumors of impending danger. Stating a crime occurred is not an exaggeration.

    Ignorance is not bliss. Information about real events occurring is NOT fear mongering. Continually stating that you are more fearful of police on campus than recognizing how much safer your world actually is because they continue to show up and do their jobs IS fear mongering.

  • Enn Arre
    Sep 30, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Google the Clery Act. Suburbs are NOT crime free because of less patrols….it’s the other way around. The effect is due to a cause. And the general public only hear about a drop in the bucket of daily crime in Minneapolis. Try subscribing to the City of Minneapolis weekly crime updates to see the real picture. And of course that is ONLY of reported crimes. How many gun shots to you think occur each day? None if you didn’t get a Safe U alert? NOPE Google Shots Fired Map- City of Minneapolis. Alerts help people remember to watch out for themselves before they become a victim. You should be learning from them. If we want more victims withhold the information…..oops that actually against the consumer protection law called the Clery Act. The more you know!