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

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.

“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.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/25/2015 - 04:04 pm.

    Really??? So students don’t have a right to know what race a person is that may be a danger to them (no matter the color of their skin) because it may offend someone. Have we lost our minds? Can we at least say if it is a man or woman who may harm them or is that sexist? Wow.

  2. Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 02/25/2015 - 05:07 pm.

    It’s about time

    Alert, look out for a black male, 5’10” wearing a jacket and carrying a backpack – he just committed a crime of some sort. I’d hate to be a black man matching that vague description, cause really how often do black men get shot by the police for being black. Hardly ever right.
    Of course those on the right are clutching their pearls and feigning indignation, but they have never been known for having good sense.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/25/2015 - 06:57 pm.

    Ditto!

    Well said Mr. Smith.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 02/26/2015 - 12:12 am.

    Kurt, are we at the point where our political correctness prohibits us from saying whether a rapist is white, black or hispanic. Nobody is feigning indignation, many are truly shocked we’ve gotten to this point.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 02/26/2015 - 01:05 pm.

      My initial reaction was similar to yours

      But on reflection I concluded that my initial reaction was wrong and the rationale is very sound. The purpose of a crime alert is so that folks can be alert for the suspect, whether for their own safety or to assist law enforcement. If there is enough information on a suspect’s appearance – including skin color – to allow someone to potentially allow the suspect to be identified on sight, then the information is given – including skin color. If there isn’t enough information, then the crime alert can’t serve the above purposes, and therefore stating the suspect’s skin color is gratuitous.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 02/26/2015 - 05:18 pm.

    Chuck, who decides if it is enough information? if the victim says it was a white male around 6 ft tall slim build who assaulted me it should go as that. If the victim says I didn’t get a good look at my assailant then don’t make an alert report. Do you think the cops put out an alert for a black male when a white male was reported to have done the crime?

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 02/27/2015 - 09:55 am.

      They do

      “Do you think the cops put out an alert for a black male when a white male was reported to have done the crime?”

      Yes, in fact they do. A few years back the Byerlys in Golden Valley was robbed, by a white guy. The police were told it was a white guy, but when they showed up at the gas station next to Byerlys, they ignored that information and took down the only black man in the vicinity. He was a regular at that station, and was defended by the station owners when the police came – to no avail. A black guy surely was the perpetrator, and no amount of facts were going to change that. So, yes, the police do exactly what you say. He later settled a civil suit against the police.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 02/27/2015 - 10:17 am.

      Joe, I begin with the assumption

      That black men in the community, nearly all of whom are not perpetrators of crimes, are incrementally subject to more harassment by the police, or viewed with more suspicion on the street, or otherwise caused to feel more alienated from the community, the more the “black male” is stereotyped as a criminal. Being a white guy I have no standing to say otherwise. If that’s the case, then there is a negative aspect to associating “black male” and “crime” in public messages, and therefore two things to be weighed against each other in deciding on the policy. Is there enough usefulness in announcing “someone was held up by a short black guy” to outweigh the additional suspicion etc cast on all short black guys?

      Given that, there is a judgment to be made and, since it is the UMn that is issuing the alerts, the judgment would be made by the UMn.

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