BY RISHA INAGANTI
For most university students, Dec. 16 was nothing more than the wrap of finals and the transition into the holiday season. But for freshman Michael T. Hearn, the evening consisted of his arrest and expulsion from the university.
A Snapchat video posted in the early evening revealed that Hearn was in possession of a firearm and ammunition, as well as a variety of drugs. Shortly after the video went public, university officials were notified and the police department began their search.
They found Hearn inside his campus residence hall, and he was quickly taken into custody. Within the time of the police getting notified and the arrest, no alerts were sent out to students, despite the nature of Hearn’s possessions.
“I feel uncomfortable knowing that I wasn’t made aware of this situation until just now,” Paige Marshall, senior fashion merchandising and management major, said when interviewed in late January. “I mean, it’s been over a month since it’s happened and I’m pretty sure none of my friends know about it either.”
The university’s police department utilizes UD Alert as the university’s main emergency notification system.These alerts arrive in the form of emails, voice messages and text messages, in a situation of imminent danger to the safety of the university community.
For many students and parents, these alerts are the only thing that make them aware of campus security threats. The lack of alert for the situation involving Hearn has led to scrutiny on the alert system.
Some have described the alerts as vague, referring to the recent detonation on the Green to express concern with the limited information generally provided within the messages.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that UD Alert is an emergency notification tool, and not a news release,” Patrick Ogden, associate vice president and chief of police at the university, said. “We’re worried that if we start putting too much information in there, then people won’t listen or take it seriously anymore.”
Some students find that alerts are sent too often, while others, like Marshall, worry that they are not sent often enough.
Ogden explained that before alerts are sent out, there is a three-part checklist that the university police department follows. They first check to see if the issue violates the Jeanne Clery Act — a consumer protection law that requires higher education institutions to be more transparent with campus crime. Clery crimes include any criminal offenses, hate crimes, Violence Against Women Act offenses and arrests and referrals.
If the unfolding situation is classified as a Clery Crime, the police department then checks if it’s happening within the campus radius and if it is an ongoing threat. If all three of these criteria are met, then they send out an alert.
This checklist method for sending alerts has been used since the UD Alert system was created, but with recent issues such as the arrest of Hearn, some have begun to fear that the alerts are no longer enough to keep campus secure.
“The biggest concern should be keeping people safe,” Marshall said. “And it’s scary feeling like we can’t rely on university systems to do that.”
I had no idea this happened on campus either, and I totally agree. Before I saw this article, I had no idea there was a larger discussion going on about UD alerts. In my opinion, they are always vague and always unhelpful–I was walking to class when I found out there was… something? happening. I had no idea if I could still go to class, or if people were leaving, and I basically had no way of knowing. What I do know is that there is occasionally a man with a water pellet gun. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the language must be intentionally vague and uninformative. Whenever there are instances of “dating violence,” descriptions of the perpetrator are not given and they generally feel like a “Please don’t get assaulted” message as opposed to actually working to stop sexual and dating violence on campus. All in all, I think this is a story that needs to be followed and developed as far as it can. On a predominately white campus with such a strong police presence, still with such a high rate of assault and substance related issues, it’s hard to feel like some of our best interests are being held in mind.
From blocking handicap accessible parking spaces, parking on sidewalks that pedestrians are actively using, texting while driving, etc., the police at UD are here to protect and serve. I wonder what they would have to add to this story.