On campus safety and security lacking

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Attempted robberies, motor vehicle theft, armed robbery and a gunshot victim found in a campus parking lot – all of these have occurred within a short period of time. The University of Indianapolis has experienced a startling number of dangerous incidents on campus since the current semester began, and it is becoming worrisome. This is my fourth year at the university, and I do not recall ever receiving so many Watchdog alerts. Quite honestly, it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable being on campus.

Watchdog is UIndy’s emergency alert system, and the alerts are sent via text messages, emails and sometimes phone calls when a potential threat occurs on or around campus. According to the Watchdog section on MyUIndy, alerts go out “whenever there is a health or safety threat to the campus that requires a rapid and widespread notification.” Personally, I feel the word “rapid” is used loosely here. I will give credit that since we have received more Watchdog alerts than usual, we have received them faster, but more often than not, those notifications are not sent out quickly enough. On Oct. 22, a timely warning email was sent out that between Monday, Oct. 18, at noon and Thursday, Oct. 21, at 11 p.m. there was a burglary that happened in an on-campus apartment building after the residents were moved to a different location for maintenance services and the sliding patio doors were left unlocked. If it happened between a Monday and a Thursday, why was the campus community notified on that Friday at 11:27 a.m.? Arguably, because the time range was until about 11 p.m., Thursday night, the message could be considered timely, but the fact that the time range was between Monday and Thursday is where “timely” does not apply.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, around 9:30 p.m., a person not associated with the university was found on campus with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to an email sent Wednesday, Oct. 20 from Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli. The email said that the person later died at the hospital and that campus police and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department would continue to monitor the safety of the campus. Learning that something like this had happened either on or around campus was devastating, but exactly what had happened remains unclear to the campus community. I recall that someone mentioned the incident on the UIndy App the night it happened, but the notification email was not sent out until 5:24 a.m. the following morning. Vitangeli sent a follow-up later that day to explain why a Watchdog alert was not sent. Since the incident was not filed until 3 a.m. and it was determined there was no immediate threat to campus, there was no reason to send one out. I understand there are protocols in place, but students were involved in helping the victim and even called 911. This could have put them in danger or anyone else who heard about it and went to the scene, if whoever shot them was around campus. Another problem is that we as a campus community, have not received another update if this was an on or off campus incident. Vitangeli’s email did say that IMPD believes it was an isolated incident.

I knew going into college that not every campus is 100% safe, and that incidents will happen. I have received Watchdog alerts every year since I enrolled at UIndy, which I knew would happen, or the university would not have made sure we all signed up for it, even encouraging us to add family members to the notification list. But what concerns me is that the alerts seem to be coming more frequently as of late. I personally have been more worried because some of the alerts have been about the area where I live on campus, and I have been more concerned walking around, mainly at night. Since the armed robbery near my building, I have had friends offer to drive me back to my building, even if it is right across the street. Friends, most having graduated, have asked me if I feel safe, and at times I don’t know whether I do. I want to say that I do, but the incidents just seem so frequent lately, and they are not happening only in campus parking lots or on the streets surrounding campus. Now they are happening inside buildings. Following the burglary in one of the apartments, electronics were stolen from Central Hall on Friday, Oct. 29. An unknown person accessed a residence hall, even though residence halls must be accessed with a student identification card, went up to the third floor and stole items from an unlocked room. This is going beyond the typical motor vehicle thefts or attempted motor vehicle thefts from the past. Now residential buildings on campus are at risk, putting students at a greater risk.

I have noticed more of a police presence, with UIndy police patrolling the campus throughout the day, especially around the parking lots of Warren Hall, Roberts Hall and Craven Hall, which has made me feel a little more at ease. This seems to be in line with President Robert Manuel’s plan of increasing the safety and security on campus. Manuel said in an email sent on Oct. 20, that he has been working for months to respond to the issues on campus, and that those need to be moved into action now. The addition of security cameras and more Blue Light Emergency Call Boxes is nice, but I question who will be watching those security cameras and how well the call boxes work in situations such as burglaries. Manuel said in his email on Oct. 20 that the police department also will add four more officers, which could help with patrols, but I don’t even know how many officers are in the department already and if adding more officers will help if the department is small in the first place.

I have to credit UIndy for trying to address these issues quickly and for  sending out more information than students typically get when there is an issue on campus. Setting up self-defense classes and implementing the safety changes quickly have been steps in the right direction. Vitangeli also followed up with an email to remind students about the police escort service that is available. However, there are more steps the university could take. For example, sending follow-ups about incidents, such as giving us an “all clear” message when there is no longer a threat to campus. Watchdog alerts also need to be more consistent. When I was a freshman, I would get alerts as phone calls, as well as emails and text messages. As the years have passed, calls have been weeded out, and alerts typically come as emails. This year, I  sometimes seem to get only an email or only a text message. So in accord with what the Watchdog webpage says about providing all of our contact information, the system whereby alerts are sent to multiple points of contact needs to be implemented again.

Explaining what the Clery Act is and providing those reports in places where students can find them more easily would be helpful. I remember when I was a freshman during Welcome Week that the Watchdog system was explained to us. We were told how to sign up and were given the number for the UIndy Police Department, but that was the last time we were really told about Watchdog. For me, that was four years ago, and even an email reminder about that information or a quick explanation on the Clery Act would be beneficial and could easily be implemented. Explanations of what constitutes a “timely warning” at UIndy, or what restrictions are placed on the information that can and cannot be given to students when there are threats to campus, also would be helpful. I encourage students to look into the Clery Act reports of the last few years, know where to access them and to learn a little more about what the Clery Act entails. Implementing Manuel’s plans so quickly has shown promise, and I hope that the university continues to take this issue seriously. For now, it is hard to tell when these incidents will calm down and when campus will feel safer again.

Correction November 15, 2021 at 12:03 a.m.: In an earlier version of this article, part of the first sentence was missing. This article has since been updated to the correct version.

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