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After recent attacks, Security Alert put to test

UCPD's new alert system has been used to quickly notify campus of recent string of violent crimes.

The University of Chicago Police Department’s (UCPD) new Security Alert System was first put to use October 1, hours after officers discovered a woman lying on the ground on South Ellis Avenue near 54th Street. The woman had been struck in the head with a handgun by an unidentified attacker.

The incident prompted the UCPD to issue a campus-wide e-mail alert shortly after it occurred, notifying recipients of the attack and requesting information from witnesses.

It was the first time the notification system, which was announced by UCPD Director Rudy Nimocks over the summer along with a number of campus security enhancement initiatives, was used to disseminate security information within hours of a serious crime. It was used again Wednesday night after a woman was sexually assaulted when entering her apartment building on East Hyde Park Boulevard near South Dorchester Avenue.

According to Bob Mason, executive director of the University’s South East Chicago Commission, an organization that tracks crime in Hyde Park, the UCPD deemed the information important enough to release to the University community because of the brutality of the attack.

“Perhaps if it had been a strong-arm robbery with less violence, it may not have been an immediate alert,” Mason said. Less violent crimes occurring within the UCPD’s patrol area are cataloged daily on the Department’s website, which was updated over the summer.

The Security Alert system is the second alert system that University officials have developed since campus security has come to the fore following highly publicized incidents of violence on college campuses nationwide and the murder last November of graduate student Amadou Cisse south of campus. The other, the cAlert system, is an opt-in service designed to inform subscribers through cell phone calls, text messages, and e-mail alerts about any event that “requires rapid, wide-scale notification of the community.” The UCPD did not deem last Wednesday’s assault as falling into this category, so only the e-mail messages were sent out.

Mason described the public reaction to the alert as largely positive.

“Within 15 minutes, I was getting feedback,” he said. Responses ranged from expressions of thanks to suggestions to install more security cameras in the area.

“A person indicated that they had been on the block a short time before the incident occurred, expressing a bit of distress,” Mason said.

After other crime reports in the past, the public response was less rapid and direct, he said. “We would get some inquiries, some feedback from people in the community voicing concern about various things,” he said. “Many of those inquiries would go to the community relations officer at the university. Generally you would not get an immediate response.”