When severe weather, crime or other threats brush the borders of the University of Indianapolis, a Watchdog alert is sent out to students, faculty, staff and parents who choose to be a part of the service.
University of Indianapolis Police Chief David Selby explained that Watchdog, UIndy’s emergency alert system, is a result of the Jeanne Clery Act and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. He explained that the service is used for set categories of alerts.
“There are two different issues,” Selby said. “There is immediate notification versus timely warning. They are two different things. Immediate notification is something that poses immediate danger to campus via manmade—a shooting—or God—a tornado. If something is an immediate danger, I send out a Watchdog. A timely warning is something that is ongoing. It is most likely associated with one of the Clery crimes: manslaughter, sexual assault, those types of things. Now the key is ongoing.”
Selby said that he is concerned about Watchdog recipients relying too heavily on the alerts to keep informed about what is going on in Indianapolis, beyond the borders of campus.
“What we’ve got to get away from is [this]; Watchdog and immediate notifications are not news services,” Selby said. “If I started sending out everything that I do as a news service, you are going to quit paying attention to it, right?”
Selby said that he only sends out necessary alerts to keep their priority high. He does not want students to get used to seeing them in their inbox and stop reading them.
“We look at [the situation and ask], ‘Is there immediate danger to campus? Could you get hurt from this?’ No. ‘Is it an ongoing thing?’ No. Well, I don’t really need to send it out,” Selby said.
Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli shares Selby’s fear that overusing Watchdog will desensitize students to the alerts’ seriousness.
“There are lots of different philosophies on notification systems. If you had one while you were in high school or elementary school, they typically use theirs for announcement purposes and also emergencies,” Vitangeli said. “Higher education typically takes the view that they should really be emergency notification systems. We don’t want—much like what happens with email—we don’t want people to ignore them. When people get a notification from Watchdog, we want to make sure that they take it seriously, that they have it programmed into their phone. We really have been intentional during orientation every year about making sure that people program in their phone campus police as well as Watchdog and that they understand that when they get a Watchdog it is something serious.”
Vitangeli said that the system is meant to inform students of things happening directly on or next to campus.
“If IMPD [Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department] has announced that this is happening and it is right around the periphery of campus, we will notify people,” Vitangeli said. “We’ve had a fire in a house, and we want people to avoid the area, so again the periphery of campus, if we feel like some type of a timely notification needs to go out to students or eminent danger or a school closing.”
Although Vitangeli is in charge of sending out many of the alerts, she is not the sole decider about when a Watchdog alert needs to be sent out.
“In terms of the decision to send a Watchdog, it is typically a collaboration between campus police, myself and media relations, depending on the situation,” Vitangeli said. “If it is a timely notification, the police are dictating if it is an immediate notification
let’s send it. If it is a weather notification, it is myself working with the provost of academic affairs and the president.”
Vitangeli said that she has never been approached by a student who wants to have more Watchdog alerts sent out.
“If there is concern, my door is open,” Vitangeli said. “I am happy to talk with students at any time if they really are concerned about wanting Watchdog done in a different manner.… If people want to advocate for a different way to use Watchdog, I am happy to talk with them. They can certainly go through student government if there is a vocal voice, but we have not heard that at all in Student Affairs or student government.”
According to a statement released by Selby, early on April 10, there was an incident on campus that left one student in the hospital and two men in police custody. Vitangeli said that there was no Watchdog alert sent out because the event was quickly contained.
“When we are looking at Watchdog, it is an eminent danger issue,” Vitangeli said. “In regard to the situation that happened, when the situation was taken care of, the student was sent to the hospital, the individuals were arrested. There was not eminent danger. It was evaluated that the situation was handled and that
there is not eminent danger. When we knew we were getting questions about it from the press, that is when we sent
out the information on campus to clarify, because there was not accurate information being reported.”
Selby said local news sources falsely reported the incident as an assault and rumors started to spread. After realizing this, UIndy officials decided that a statement needed to be released to clear things up.
“We certainly understood the confusion and said right away we need to get information out to campus,” Vitangeli said. “We don’t want to be in that situation where the media is reporting information before we do. We just didn’t expect that to happen.”
Selby also said he knew that he needed to send the facts out to members of the UIndy community.
“If I was a parent and my daughter was here, I would be upset, too,” Selby said. “I wanted to get the truth out to them so they [other parents] could calm down a little bit. “