UW officials sending more safety warnings to students

Police increasing frequency of timely warnings after looking at federal law
UW officials sending more safety warnings to students

UW officials sending more safety warnings to students

Claudia Gupta lives on North Lake Street, close to where a suspect was chased after a shot was fired blocks away.

Since then, Gupta has received two timely warnings from the university. Another one has been sent out in the last month. Those messages describe assaults and armed robberies that have happened close to campus, the suspects, and safety tips that students should keep in mind in light of any threat.

As a senior, Gupta doesn’t remember any emails like this one in the past, and it makes her afraid to wander far from her apartment after dusk.

“That’s what makes it more concerning is I don’t know if it’s just happening more or if it happened more in the past and us students just weren’t hearing about it,” Gupta said.

UW Police spokesperson Marc Lovicott said crime rates around campus are not up, with the exception of a small increase in the number of strong-arm robberies. Madison police said the rise in that statistic is a result of the surge of electronics thefts, targeting student housing.

Lovicott said the department is required under federal law to communicate to students and staff about serious crimes — like assaults, sexual assaults and armed robberies — that happen close to or on campus. The department recently re-evaluated how it adheres to the Clery Act, and determined officers and the university should be putting out more information about crimes in order to better live up to the standards set by the federal government.

“This school year, folks are going to notice more of them because we’re going to do it more frequently, because it’s our interpretation of the law that we need to do so,” Lovicott said.

Timely warnings are separate from the WISCAlerts students saw last Wednesday when the shot was fired on Langdon Street. While WISCAlerts act as instant emergency messaging that call for immediate action, timely warnings are sent out after an incident occurs to everyone with a wisc.edu domain email address. The note typically includes information on what happened, a suspect description and safety tips to prevent similar situations.

Lovicott said UWPD discussed at length what would be overkill for students and at what point they would no longer pay attention. He admitted that many of the warnings will likely end up in students’ email trash sections, but the department would rather be transparent about the incidents happening nearby.

“We still want people to pay attention to timely warnings. They’re important,” Lovicott said. “But we understand the fact that when we send too many of these out, you’re going to create this desensitization to a certain extent. But it’s the law. We have to do it.”

Wednesday night, UW police, Madison police and UW administrators led a Twitter chat, answering social media questions linked with #uwsafety. The university is hosting a web conversation Friday from noon to 1 p.m., aimed at helping parents understand what’s been going on around campus. Finally, UW Police will host a town hall meeting on Sunday from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. with a focus on safety. The meeting will take place in Tripp Commons at Memorial Union.