University of Nebraska at Omaha students expressed concern to the Department of Public Safety after receiving alerts of sexual assault and indecent exposure hours after the incidents.
In the past month, there was a gas leak on University Drive South, a sexual assault at Maverick Village and a string of indecent exposures in the Pacific Street parking garage. Students were informed about the gas leak via text and email immediately, but did not learn about the other incidents until hours later through email.
UNO’s Department of Public Safety uses two alert systems. Each serves a different purpose.
“There’s an emergency notification, and there are timely warnings. Your emergency notification is more for those incidents that are happening right now and are critical to the safety of the campus – like if you have a gas leak or a tornado,” said UNO police Chief Charlotte Evans. “A timely warning is alerting the campus of crimes that are happening that we want them to be aware of so that they can ensure their safety.”
Many students are unaware there are different alert systems in place. They are just happy to be notified.
“It’s always new information to me,” said student Sarah Norman. “I’m glad to find out what’s going on because otherwise I don’t think I would find out at all. In some situations, I think a text would be best.”
Timely warnings are not delivered to staff and students through text messages. Some students feel it would be beneficial to utilize the department’s texting ability even further to help ensure safety on campus.
“As soon as they know something is going on they should let us know. Period,” said student Brandon McDermott. “If they have the ability to do it, which they certainly do, they should definitely be utilizing and using that to inform us. We are not being informed if we find out about a potential predator 18 or 20 hours later.”
The Clery handbook sets forth guidelines for campus safety and security based on the Clery Act, which requires colleges to disclose information about crime on campuses. It does not define “timely.” It does say that a warning “should be issued as soon as pertinent information is available.”
Both of the recent time delays were caused because the Department of Public Safety was not notified until hours later themselves, Evans said.
“We still felt it was very necessary to alert campus that something had occurred and give people a chance to think through safety protocols,” Evans said.
The day following the Pacific garage indecent exposure, extra officers were staffed at the garage in anticipation the offender would return. Their gut feelings were correct. When he returned to the scene of the crime, he was arrested and taken into custody.
“To me that was a great use of a timely warning because it allowed us to let the campus know what happened,” Evans said. “I think that it also is letting the campus know that we are in the know. We’re aware that it’s happening and are making every effort to assist.”