November 1, 2013

Voluntary vigilance

Opt-in crime alert system would allow individuals to remain aware without inundating inboxes.

In the last week, there were four shootings in areas around the University that did not prompt a campus-wide security alert. In an interview with the Maroon on Tuesday, a University spokesperson said that the reason the University did not issue an alert was that the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) and campus administrators did not believe that there was an ongoing threat to the community. The rationale behind current guidelines is reasonable; restricting security alerts to incidents when danger is imminent ensures that students take notice when there is a serious security concern. But the selective policy prevents students from getting an accurate and up-to-date picture of crime in the neighborhood. In addition to sending out campus-wide security alerts under serious circumstances, UCPD should create an opt-in system where anyone can receive crime notifications, regardless of whether the incidents fall under the University’s guidelines for sending out a security alert.

The UCPD’s Daily Incident Reports, the department’s most comprehensive listing of criminal activity, are a good first step towards creating a more accurate picture of crime. However, the Incident Reports are published the day after the incidents are reported during the week, not until Monday for crimes reported over the weekend, and do not contain crimes in the area reported to the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Because CPD only publishes crimes on its database a week after they occur, someone seeking information about a recent crime in the area might not be able to find out any information immediately. This leaves a gaping hole in the crime information available; for example, as of now there is no record of the shooting that occurred on Sunday at East 54th Street and South Cornell Avenue, an area near Broadview Hall and close to student apartments, in either the UCPD Daily Incident Reports or on the CPD website.

To make sure that all residents have the most up-to-date crime information, UCPD should create an alert system that reports all crimes, including those reported to CPD, that occur near campus and oft-frequented areas. If implemented, more frequent alerts would give all residents who sign up an awareness of the area. The alerts, which could take the form of a text message or e-mail, would avoid creating an inflated sense of crime or emergency since the individuals receiving them would understand that the alerts are intended for awareness rather than warning of immediate danger.

For those who hear about crimes from other sources, such as news outlets, this opt-in system could also help alleviate unnecessary fears by clarifying, for example, that a shooting is gang-related and nearby residents are therefore not targeted. An alert explaining the nature of the crime could let individuals in the vicinity know that they do not have to be worried about an ongoing threat.

This system—which should be open to both University and non-University affiliates—would not only better serve people concerned with crime in the area, but could also help the police by providing more eyes on the street to identify at-large suspects and related suspicious activity.

With access to the most current and localized information on criminal activity, the UCPD is in a unique position to provide effective and accurate data for this opt-in system. One of the most frequent pieces of advice that the UCPD gives to the University community is “to be aware of your surroundings at all times.” In order to be fully aware of their surroundings, however, individuals who seek more information about crimes in the area should be able to get comprehensive and up-to-date information.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.