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U of M crime alerts will no longer automatically include suspects’ race

University President Eric Kaler said he’s responding to complaints that the descriptions reinforce stereotypes.

The University of Minnesota will no longer automatically include race in descriptions of suspects when sending out crime alerts.

University President Eric Kaler announced the change today in a note sent to university facullty, staff and students:

“We have heard from many in our community that the use of race in suspect descriptions in our Crime Alerts may unintentionally reinforce racist stereotypes of Black men, and other people of color, as criminals and threats. That in turn can create an oppressive climate for some members of our community, a climate of suspicion and hostility.”

The university is required by law to warn about threats to safety, but now will only issue detailed descriptions that include race when there is specific information to identity the suspect. University Vice President Pam Wheelock and the university chief of police will decide whether to include a suspect description in a Crime Alert on a case-by-case basis.

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“Where the information is too general to advance that goal, we will note that only a limited description of the suspect(s) is available,” Kaler wrote.

Past policy was to include suspect description regardless of the level of detail.

Wheelock, vice president of University Services, said in another memo today:

“Not every crime triggers a Crime Alert. Homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and arson are the major crimes that will be reported in a Crime Alert, but the University can issue an Alert for any crime that may pose an ongoing threat. The University doesn’t issue an Alert if an arrest is made and it’s believed the threat no longer exists.”

She said some on campus feel better informed and safer with full descriptions in the alerts:

“But others — particularly Black men — have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety. They express concern that Crime Alerts that include race reinforce stereotypes of Black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.”

She said a recent review found Crime Alerts on 51 crimes based on suspect descriptions provided by victims and witnesses:

“About 30 percent of those provide a limited suspect description. In those cases, there is insufficient information to reasonably assess if a person presents a danger and therefore would not be used. At the same time, more than two thirds of those descriptions include specific information that could reasonably inform the community about an ongoing risk. The key will be to provide useful, actionable information that community members can use to keep themselves safe, while reflecting the University’s commitment to ensuring a welcoming and diverse campus.”