After crimes, students want communication
Administration may step up efforts
After the murder of a police officer and the mugging of a student near the Delmar Loop, members of the campus community are frustrated with the Washington University administration over its alleged lack of communication regarding off-campus crime.
Although the recent murder of University City Police Sergeant Michael King grabbed media headlines across St. Louis, the administration decided not to make a formal announcement to the University community regarding the incident, which occurred two blocks away from Residential Life-owned apartments.
According to Assistant to the Chancellor Rob Wild, the crime did not war-rant a campus-wide alert because it did not directly involve or pose a direct threat to University students.
“This was such an isolated incident, such an isolated horrible act of violence. [The police] have a suspect in custody.
It just didn’t seem that there was a need to send out some sort of University-wide response,” Wild said. “I guess I am still unclear on what a message from the University would do.”
King was sitting in his police cruiser on the Loop on Oct. 31 when he was shot to death. After an extended chase and several day manhunt, police arrested the suspected killer, Todd Shepard, on Nov. 4.
In light of the murder, some students have questioned the University’s lack of a stronger response, despite the crime’s proximity to campus and the fact that the suspect was on the run for several days before capture.
“I understand the concerns about not wanting to alarm students, but I think having information about what’s going on in the University coming in bits and pieces from other sources is potentially more worrying, because you really don’t know what’s going on,” junior Erin Kane said.
According to Associate Director of Residential Life (ResLife) Josh Walehwa, his office works in tandem with the administration regarding emergency response.
“There is not a separate policy for the Ofﬁce of Residential Life,” Wale-hwa wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “When an incident occurs that might warrant the sending of an emergency text message, those responsible for the safety of the community consult quickly and make a decision about sending an alert message.”
Walehwa said that ResLife was in close contact with the Washington University Police Department (WUPD) soon after King’s murder and that neither party deliberated on whether to is-sue a campus-wide alert.
“It was quickly apparent there was no immediate threat to those in the University community,” Walehwa wrote. “Chief Strom was in contact with key members of the Residential Life team early in the morning of Saturday, November 1.”
According to Wild, the University is very conscious about how often it sends out campus-wide e-mails, so as not to alarm students to an unnecessary extent.
“I can certainly understand why some people would want the University to do that, but we have to be thoughtful about the frequency of messages that we send out,” Wild said. “But I also think that for the University to send out a mass e-mail, we would do that if we felt that there was something that people needed to do to change their behavior to reduce their likelihood of them being harmed by a crime, or something
along those lines.”
Wild also noted that the University did not issue an announcement out of respect for the King family. King was a 1980 University alum and the son of a former medical school dean.“
Out of respect to the family and the loved ones of the deceased officer, we felt that our lowering the ﬂag to half mast and recognizing him in that important way was an important way to acknowledge the sad event rather than making it a bigger University announcement or something along those lines,” Wild said.
The murder of King occurred two weeks after the mugging at gunpoint of a University student just outside the Greenway Apartments. Greenway resident Dione Drew, a junior, said she was not satisfied with the University’s response, and wrote a letter to WUPD in which she enumerated some security suggestions to them.
“I think the entire community should have had a chance to know about the event. Just because it didn’t happen right around them doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect them,” Drew said. “If violent crimes are happening so close to where students live then they should be aware of them.”
Both Drew and Kane recommended that the University expand its Bear Patrol services, which is a group of students enlisted to augment WUPD’s security detail. In her letter to WUPD, Drew said
that at the beginning of the semester she called Bear Patrol to walk her back to Greenway from an on-campus building, but the Bear Patrol informed her that it could not walk her back because Greenway, a ResLife building, was out of its range.
Drew will be sitting on the University’s Safety and Security Committee, and said that in general the University tends to have effective responses to safety issues but could improve in the area of prevention. “The response is amazing but I would love to work on prevention,” Drew said. It’s an area I think I can re-ally help make a positive impact on the community.”
The Safety and Security Committee was created before both King’s murder and the Greenway mugging. It is intended to facilitate communication, coordination and distribution of information on campus safety and security.
Wild said that he and the other members of the administration are available if students have any concerns and that they are working to ensure the safety of the students.
“Our number one concern is the safety of our students,” he said. “We want our students to feel safe. We want all our students to have information that they need.”