News and Information

About those safety alerts

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

by Deane Morrison

If you work or study at the U, you get email alerts about crimes on or near campus, and tips on how to stay safe. Here’s a breakdown of the various messages, along with their genesis and purposes.

Timely warnings

The University issues these for crimes on University property, or in areas adjacent to campus, to inform the U of M community of a threat or ongoing risk so recipients can take protective action. Crimes that may trigger a timely warning include criminal homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and arson. These warnings are required by the federal Clery Act and are sent by email to all faculty, staff, and students, as well as anyone else who subscribes. A timely warning may also be issued for a series of burglaries that follows a pattern.

When a victim’s or witness’s suspect description is specific enough to help identify an individual, that information is included in the crime alert. Examples: a combination of traits like race, gender, clothing, a scar, height, body type, accent, tattoos, hair color, and facial hair.

When the suspect description is too general to help identify an individual--for example, only race and gender--it won’t be in the crime alert; instead, the alert will say that only a limited suspect description is available at the time.

Neighborhood safety notices

These are sent in response to crimes off campus, when a partner law enforcement agency asks the University for help disseminating public safety information, or when the UMPD determines that the information will enhance campus safety.

Timely warnings and neighborhood safety notices follow the same process:

• Municipal or U of M police receive a report from the victim of a major crime

• The police chief is promptly notified that the report requires a timely warning or neighborhood safety notice

• The chief notifies the U’s vice president for University Services (VPUS), where communications staff begin work on the warning or safety notice. The vice president calls the president’s office and other leadership as appropriate; for example, if the victim is a student, the Office for Student Affairs is notified.

• Any decision about whether to release a suspect description or other details in a timely warning rests with the UMPD chief and the vice president for University Services.

• Typically, the notice goes out without delay to about 79,000 people. No one can opt out. Anyone can sign up at the Safe U website. Every reporter in the Twin Cities is on the list, and the University News Service gets a notification call from the VPUS communications office.

Public safety updates

These messages come from the vice president for University Services. They began about three years ago in response to a wave of robberies. They are issued roughly every other week, or whenever a timely topic presents itself.

“Though we often talk about safety in terms of the prevention of crime, the University looks at safety in a more comprehensive way,” says Mike Berthelsen, interim vice president for University Services. For example, “We think about safety in how we build and renovate campus facilities, maintain campus grounds and sidewalks, inspect and maintain fire alarms and sprinkler systems, fume hoods, elevators, and more.”

Beyond  ticketing

The University of Minnesota Police Department doesn’t wait for people to break rules, but actively takes safety messages to campus and neighborhood groups. In community gatherings, for example, officers present information about current crime levels and events that may affect the listeners, and introduce them to the department’s social media.  

At the U, the police regularly present to student and campus groups. Also, starting in October 2016, two new beat officers will cover the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.

UMPD Chief Matt Clark says his officers “try to get everybody to think safety and comply with rules. … We see ourselves as helping provide a good student experience.”

He stresses that the police would rather talk to people than cite them for not respecting the rules concerning mass transit--a major area of concern. Clark urges everyone to “look out for each other and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be on your phone or have earbuds in, and be sure you’re not causing a hazard.”

For more information about safety or to subscribe to notices, visit Safe U.

Read more about the UMPD racial profiling policy.


"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.