Students at Western Michigan University continue to criticize the
campus alert system for not notifying students of serious crimes that happen off campus, such as the tragic Uber shooting and more recent shootings at 700 SoHo in 2017 and 2018, which is directly across from campus.
WMU has two types of alerts they send out according to the Clery Act–
timely warnings and emergency response.
The Clery Act, which is based off geography, is rules and guidelines that WMU Public Safety has to follow.
Timely warnings are sent out when a crime occurs on Western’s Clery’s geography and are directly reported to WMU Public Safety. An emergency
response is sent out upon confirmation of a significant emergency, danger, or threat.
“The gas leak that just happened, we had to send out an alert, but crimes like rape, homicide, gas leaks, or aggravated assault are what we typically send alerts out to students about,” said WMU Police Chief, Scott Merlo.
WMU Public Safety is often criticized by students and even parents when a crime happens in areas surrounding campus or near student living and there is no alert sent out.
“I think no matter what the situation is, students should be notified. It is our community and many of us are away from our parents, so we deserve to know if there is any sort of danger,” said Ashley Robertson, a junior at WMU.
Terry Owen, a father from Muskegon, whose daughter graduated in 2016, said that was one of his concerns when his daughter went off to school and the whole time was in school at Western was her being so far away from his only daughter.
“She’s my baby. She is my only daughter. I want her to feel safe and I want to feel comfortable with her living that far away, even if Muskegon
is only an hour and a half away.
I was so used to just walking up the stairs to see her. If someone is running around with a gun, I want her to know what is going on, whether it is on campus or not,” said Owen.
According the Clery Act, they are not required to notify students of crimes that happen off campus.
The Clery Act specifies that alerts only need to be sent out when there is a direct threat of danger to campus or if there is something heading towards campus.
WMU Public Safety is only responsible for crimes that happen on campus. A crime committed off campus is in Kalamazoo Public Safety’s
(KDPS) jurisdiction and WMU Public Safety is required to let them handle it.
Merlo, who retired from KDPS after 23 years, has no doubts that they can handle crimes off campus.
“I’m a father to two daughters, one that lives in the Arboretums. I put my trust in KDPS to keep her safe and to take care of crimes that are happening off campus,” said Merlo.
Merlo also believe that students need to make themselves aware of crimes and events happening around them and not be dependent on alerts being sent out.
“We are not responsible for them off campus. Students need to make themselves aware in order to help keep themselves safe. We might not send out alerts about everything that happens off campus, but we may send out a tweet,” said Merlo.
Merlo acknowledges social media for students being made aware of crimes that happen off of campus, but sometimes false information is spread around. Robertson also acknowledged social media for being made aware of crimes, such as the Uber shooting.
“I found out through Twitter, but there were multiple different stories, which created chaos. Alerts from WMU Public Safety or even KDPS would have helped students have the correct information,” said Robertson.
Many students do not agree with WMU Public Safety not sending alerts for off campus crimes, however Merlo says they do the best they can without causing unnecessary fear over isolated incidents and without breaking the Clery Act guidelines.
Breaking the Clery Act guidelines can cause them to be fined up to $57,000.
“We do the best we can to follow these guidelines, but still make the best decisions morally and to protect campus and students the best we can,” said Merlo.