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Lackluster communication efforts from UCPD leave students feeling unsure, unsafe

UCPD releases Clery Timely Warning emails to let students know when a crime has occurred on or near campus, but they often don’t provide substantial enough information to ease students’ worries. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Isabel Weinerth

May 1, 2020 9:47 p.m.

Westwood isn’t known to be a dangerous place, and UCLA isn’t known to be an unsafe campus. But just like anywhere, bad things do happen.

If you’re lucky, your only interaction with danger is through reading about it.

But for many Bruins, reading about it stops after the subject line of an email – and feeling informed about campus safety is harder than it should be.

In the status quo, students are kept up to date about incidences on campus through two separate systems of alerts: BruinAlerts and UCPD Clery Timely Warnings. BruinAlerts are emergency notifications for situations involving an immediate threat to the safety of the UCLA community, while Clery Timely Warnings report crimes near or on campus property that present a serious or continuing threat. Both alerts are sent to all registered UCLA email addresses.

While campus officials at the moment are rightfully most concerned about COVID-19, it is important that transparency regarding campus safety is not forgotten.

And communication between UCPD and students could use some improvement.

UCPD’s Clery Timely Warnings are, at best, meeting the bare minimum. They comply with federal law, make basic safety information available to students and theoretically allow the community to make safer decisions.

However, the UCPD Clery Timely Warning emails can be vague and confusing for students, creating a lack of clarity about what’s happening on campus. The emails’ subjects state the official crime, but students must open a crime report to learn any more information.

The email system itself does not prove to be a substantial information barrier. What is concerning, however, is that once the initial threat has passed, students are not updated with further information. Unclear updates on the development of crime-related situations can encourage speculation and rumor, which is a threat to campus safety too. UCPD must be working to more effectively follow up and notify students of changes to initial crime reports if it wants to give students any peace of mind – especially upon entering a post-pandemic world where anxieties will already be high.

From a student’s perspective, UCPD’s system isn’t meeting its main goal: to communicate useful information about crimes on campus or in the immediate Westwood community to students.

Gurkriti Ahluwalia, a third-year marine biology student, said she felt safe on campus until an assault happened at Hitch Suites in January. Now she said she feels uncertain about campus safety – because aside from knowing that something indeed happened, she hardly knew anything else.

Ahluwalia said she wishes there was an easier way to learn about incidences like this one, but said she doesn’t have the time or the know-how to effectively read the full police report.

And she’s not the only one sharing these feelings.

Randa Yousef, a third-year aerospace engineering student, said she felt pretty good about campus safety until around the same time as Ahluwalia.

She said while her resident assistants helped her feel safe, she felt that the UCPD emails could have been more helpful if they provided more information on the status of the crime after the initial alert.

But students shouldn’t have to rely on their peers for details when a police department exists on campus.

Recognizing this, student government is trying to increase student consideration when it comes to transparency about campus safety. The UCLA Campus Safety Alliance, which seeks student involvement with administration, was revived in 2018 following concerns that students weren’t involved enough in creating campus policies.

“When creating campus safety policies, we felt like students were considered an afterthought,” said Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President Kimberly Bonifacio and acting chair of CSA. “We need to be there throughout the whole process.”

Perhaps student collaboration could help increase transparency. But the burden shouldn’t continue to fall on students alone for campuswide safety initiatives.

That’s a job for UCLA administrators.

Bruins already juggling their busy lives should be able to expect clear information and transparent safety practices on their campus. And while involvement at a student government level is beneficial, it shouldn’t feel so necessary.

After all, it’s not as though crime has halted while campus is shut.

In just the last two weeks, two student residences near campus were burglarized. Students were notified through the UCPD Clery Timely Warning system, but since the initial emails, they have not received any updates on the situations or on UCPD precautions. By keeping students in the dark with poor communication, especially when Bruins are spread across the globe, UCPD precludes students from taking necessary and adequate steps to keep themselves or their things safe.

Lt. Scott Scheffler from the Community Services Division of UCPD said because there are multiple Timely Warnings throughout the year, they do not want to overwhelm the community with emails.

Certainly, an inundation of emails would be unnecessary and unfeasible for a campus of 45,000 students. However, the nature of UCPD’s alerts seems to be geared at meeting the bare minimum, rather than fitting the needs and demands of students. UCPD could, at the very least, provide students with the tools to learn more about recent safety issues.

But by continuing to aim for only for what’s required of them, UCPD prevents students the ability to be fully educated on their surrounding community. And feeling out of the loop can equate with feeling unsafe for many students.

So, to truly protect community members, UCPD first needs to better inform them.

Otherwise, UCLA’s campus will seem like just another place where bad things happen without much explanation.

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Isabel Weinerth | Opinion columnist
Weinerth is an Opinion columnist.
Weinerth is an Opinion columnist.
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