The University of Florida Police Department acted swiftly in alerting students and employees early Sunday morning using UF Alerts as required by the Clery Act.
The alert messages were sent to students around 1 a.m. Sunday after a male matching the description of the suspect from the recent UF assault cases was seen near the Hub area. The messages later clarified no attack occurred.
UF alerts are part of the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. They must issue timely warnings about crimes that pose a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees.
The Clery Act requires reporting of crimes in seven major categories including criminal homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson.
According to Abigail Boyer, assistant executive director of programs for the Clery Center for Security on Campus, the purpose of the Clery Act is to increase transparency regarding crime information about student safety on campus. The law took effect in 1991.
“The spirit of Jeanne Clery Act is to keep students safer,” Boyer said.
She stated that campus security authorities are responsible for notifying universities of information that pose as a threat to campus safety such as crime reports and statistics.
The law was named after Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old girl raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room by a student she did not know. Realizing there were no uniform laws mandating campus authorities to provide warnings about incidents affecting student safety, Jeanne Clery’s parents founded the Clery Center for Security on Campus in 1987 and took their fight to Capitol Hill.
UF was mandated to comply to the Clery Act as soon as it took effect in 1991, according to Maj. Brad Barber, UFPD public information officer. They originally sent alerts through reverse 911 calls before they began using technology such as text messages, emails, social media and IP phones.
Barber said the on-shift law enforcement supervisors normally make the decision to send alerts out. They recognize the situation, become aware of what is happening, confirm what occurred and send out information that indicates a potential threat to our community. There are up to three supervisors on each shift.
The information sent to students early Sunday morning was sent “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Gainesville Police Department spokesman Ben Tobias. The messages were sent to about 66,000 people.
Upon the female’s return to her dorm, she contacted her male friend in Jacksonville, who later reported to campus police that she was allegedly followed by a white male matching the description of the suspect, according to a press release by GPD.
The female involved in the report was intoxicated when the police arrived. She said she noticed a 6-foot, white male following her as she walked across campus, but he never caught up with her or touched her. The female’s version of the events, locations and actual description of the suspect changed several times while police talked to her. The incident was reported to police at 12:15 a.m., but the female reported the incident occurred close to 11:30 p.m. GPD said they did not have credible information to indicate a crime occurred.
“Any situation like this is a dynamic one,” Barber said. “The expectation is to get that information out as quickly as possible with the information that has been obtained at that point of time.”
Barber stated the reporting person believed she was being followed by the possible suspect of the previous attacks and that UFPD had obligations to notify students and employees based on what information was available. As they received additional information, they sent out a second batch of messages clarifying the situation.
UF student Victoria Pankwich said after reading the alert messages, she will never walk alone at night, even from one dorm to another.
Some students living on campus like Summer Cuevas appreciated the efforts by UFPD but hopes the alert messages will be more specific and validated before they come through in the future, she said.
Cuevas said some of her friends were frightened after they received the messages Sunday.
“We shouldn’t hate on them,” Cuevas said of the alerts. “Even if it is just a rumor or something suspicious, it’s still going to help someone who was around the Hub at that time or someone who was around anywhere near that area on campus.”