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What constitutes an 'imminent threat?' Students question what causes university to send alerts, why they send them when they do

By Ray Garcia

Following the recent cases of lewd and suspicious behavior on campus, students have raised concerns over the visible and timely manner of Western Alerts.

Senior Boston Smith is one of the students troubled by the lack of transparency.

“I definitely noticed and [have] been in situations in which I made reports about activity,” Smith said. “It really seems like there is a lack of interest in the safety of the students because of it, or the credibility of what the students have to say.”

Western sends alerts based on the concept of imminent threat to health or safety of the campus community, according to an email from Western’s Director of Communications Paul Cocke.

The number of alerts reflects the number of incidents that occur during a given academic year, making it hard to compare the prevalence of alerts from year to year.

“Our practice in sending Western Alerts is unchanged. We cannot control the number of incidents that may trigger [an alert],” Cocke said.

On Oct. 29, a student entered the women’s restroom in the Ridgeway Kappa residence hall when she found a man crouching in a shower stall. After she ran from the room, another student saw the man quickly leave.

The occurrence happened on Sunday around 4 a.m., but a Western Alert Advisory was not sent out until 3 p.m. the following day.

The delay caused worry among Western students.

Cocke said the alert was delayed so the university could investigate the incident further to gain a clear understanding of what happened.

Cocke said this incident was concerning, but it was unclear exactly what had happened.

Ridgeway Kappa is a co-ed residence hall. While he was in the wrong bathroom, the man did not threaten the students in any way, Cocke said.

It was not specified in the Western Alert Advisory if the man was a resident in the residence hall.

“If there is someone that is doing something in an area around campus or there is something that happened so recently, I’d want to know,” Smith said. “There are people that wander into these areas without any knowledge that there’s someone perhaps dangerous.”

The operational details of sending Western Alerts differ on a case-by-case basis. It depends on what is known soon after the incident. Sometimes details are fragmented and require further police investigation, which can cause delays, Cocke said.

Erring on the side of caution, the university issued Western Alert advisory about suspicious behavior the next day to campus, he said.

Cocke said based on our knowledge of other four-year universities in the state, Western typically sends more alerts than others.

“We also are only a couple of months into this academic year so any comparison to last academic year is premature and misleading,” he said.

Despite there being specific requirements needed to warrant an alert, some students want more updates of the safety on and around campus.

College Factual is a website that collects statistical data from universities across the nation and ranks them.

Western received an overall crime rating of C+ when they compared reported on-campus, city and regional crime against all other schools nationwide.

The rating for Bellingham’s crime and campus crime is below average. It is unknown how frequently the data is updated.

Freshman Luke Galloway said that he would like to see the university give subscribers an option to receive more or less alerts.

“There are people who really like to know what’s going on with crime in the surrounding areas,” Galloway said. “I know they have the information about it, it’s just being a matter of getting it out to students.”

Western's University Police homepage provides daily crime logs. The university is also required to publish an Annual Security and Fire Safety Report on or before Oct. 1 each year, which can be found on Western’s Campus Safety page, Cocke said.

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