TCU no longer sends crime alerts unless threat is imminent


TCU Police say a change in the interpretation of federal law means that unless there is an imminent threat to safety, they won't be sending campus-wide email alerts about crimes such as sexual assault and robbery that occur on or near campus.

Police Chief Steve McGee said the change in practice was implemented after he attended a Clery Act Training Seminar in January.

The 1990 law requires universities that receive federal student aid to record and disseminate information about crimes on and near campus.

Although McGee said the policy went into effect in January, few alerts were sent in the fall. According to TCU Police records, five sexual assaults were reported in the fall. However, alerts were only emailed about two – and one of those was issued only after a TCU 360 inquiry.

This semester, three sexual assaults were reported and crime alerts were not sent in any of the cases. TCU Police records categorized the assaults as acquaintance rape, and McGee said no alerts were were issued because "the identity of the individual in question was known."

In the 2011-12 academic year, four sexual assaults were reported. TCU 360 has confirmed that crime alerts were sent out regarding the three assaults that occurred in the fall.

McGee said the past practice of sending an alert for every report resulted in over-alerting, and noted the tendency of local media to pick up the reports of sexual assaults. He also said concerns that students would become desensitized to crime alerts in general also spurred the change.

The Clery Center for Security on Campus began interpreting the timely notification part of the law differently in 2011, Abigail Boyer, director of communications and outreach for the center, said.

An email from TCU Director of Communications Lisa Albert cited McGee’s earlier comments, saying that many of the reported incidents are known acquaintances and did not require crime alerts to be sent.

“TCU Police have decided not to send crime alerts for each incident in an effort to keep students from being desensitized to receiving the alerts,” Albert wrote in an email. “[TCU Police] continue to report assaults within the confines of the Clery Act.”

McGee said that he wants people to read crime alerts.

The new policy creates a false sense of security, said senior strategic communication major Rachel Holden, who added that an unknown man attempted to assault her in 2009.

Holden said she is surprised and let down by the change. She said that following the incident, she didn’t feel embarrassed about what had happened, because she knew others were aware of the incident and could have a heightened sense of vigilance.

"I'm curious why they'd change that – it's not fair – why would we want to be naive," Holden asked. "I'm very curious why they'd change it. It doesn't make sense."

Reflecting on the former crime alert practice, Holden said, "I thought it was a great thing to be aware of what was going on around campus."