Why do campus police send out crime alerts?

Campus police issue them as part of a federal transparency law

November 30, 2018
Author: Imran Ghori
November 30, 2018

The email and text message alerts can sound alarming at first: A robbery near campus. A report of a shooter that turned out to be a hoax.

Those are a few of the messages sent to all UC Riverside faculty members, students, and staff employees in recent months by the UC Riverside Police Department. Use of text messaging and email has led some to believe campus crime is more prevalent, said Assistant Police Chief John Freese.

“There’s not necessarily more crime, there’s more information about it,” Freese said. “We don’t want our campus community to become fearful when they receive the messages. We disseminate the information because our goal is to keep our campus community informed – and safe.”  

Those alerts are part of the campus’ compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, also known as Clery Act, a 28-year-old federal law passed to provide transparency about crime levels at colleges and universities.

Freese said the alerts represent only a snapshot of crime activity on or near UCR.

As of late November, the police department has sent 41 alerts this year. These alerts included crimes such as robberies, sexual assaults and lewd acts and safety concerns such as gas leaks and police activity near campus.

Under the Clery Act, campus police must release what’s called a “Timely Warning” for certain categories of crimes that occur on that college or university or in nearby areas, such as student housing or places where students congregate. The warnings are sent as “UCPD Crime alert” emails.

Timely warnings are issued on a case-by-case basis for serious crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. Police also consider whether there’s a continuing danger to the campus community and if releasing information could compromise the law enforcement investigation when deciding when to release an alert, Freese said.

An alert will generally include a summary of the crime, its time and location, and if there’s a continuing danger. If police have a suspect description, that may also be included.

Police will also sometimes issue alerts for property crimes, such as if there are multiple burglaries at campus parking lots.

UCR police – at the suggestion of students and other campus members – include information in alerts on actions that people can take to protect themselves, and available resources such as counseling.

The watch commander on duty has authority to send an alert, including by text message, usually within 24 hours of an incident, Freese said.

Magaly Perez, UCR’s Clery Act compliance coordinator, said the purpose of the alerts is not to scare the campus, but to provide more information.

“You want to know what’s going on in the area where you spend most of your time,” she said. “You want to have the tools and resources in case you’re a victim of a crime.”

The Clery Act also requires a second type of alert called an “emergency notification,” for rare cases in which there is an immediate threat to students, faculty or staff on campus. Examples include an active shooter, natural disaster, building collapse or hazardous spill.

UCR also has the capability of using the bell tower speakers and preempting campus network computer screens to issue a warning if needed, Freese said.

As part of the Clery Act, colleges and universities are required to post an annual report that includes crime statistics. UC Riverside’s most recent report, filed in October, is available here at the police department website.