University of Minnesota police will stop sending out what they consider vague descriptions of suspects in campus crime alerts after criticism that authorities sometimes release racial descriptions and little other concrete information.
From now on, the campuswide bulletins triggered by serious crimes such as robbery and aggravated assault will only include the suspect’s description “when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group,” U Vice President Pamela Wheelock said Wednesday in an e-mail to students, faculty and staff.
The announcement came after a series of student-led protests on the issue and marks a significant step for a university dealing with tension over the racial climate on campus, an issue that has reverberated at colleges and universities across the country in recent months.
Wheelock said the goal has always been to make students and residents feel safe and informed.
“For some, knowing they have all the information available about a crime, including the complete suspect description, makes them feel better informed and increases how safe they feel,” Wheelock said in the e-mail. “But others — particularly black men — have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety.”
She said critics of the policy also feel the racial descriptions “reinforce stereotypes of black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.”
The campus advocacy group Whose Diversity?, which has been behind several recent high-profile demonstrations at the U, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it was pleased with the university’s “active engagement with the issue of racialized crime alerts from the administration.”
The group said, however, that the U’s announcement gave the impression that “the administration remains unconvinced that racial profiling has real and tangible consequences.”
A member of the group cited a study by university authorities that found that about a third of campus crime alerts provided “a limited suspect description.” That means race could still be included in about two-thirds of the crime alerts.
“It’s still putting black students and other students of color at risk of being racially profiled,” said Leah Prudent, a senior global studies major.
In the most recent campus demonstration Feb. 9, 16 Whose Diversity? members — some lugging sleeping bags — took over U President Eric Kaler’s second-floor office in Morrill Hall, vowing to stay until their demands were met. The sit-in ended nearly eight hours later with the arrests 13 people.
Among their demands was greater racial and ethnic diversity in university hiring practices and more money for the school’s ethnic studies program, which they contended Kaler had promised would happen by the end of last year.
The university’s announcement Wednesday didn’t appear to address these issues.
The administration said change in crime alerts had been in the works for about 18 months, during which U officials examined police practices at all 14 Big Ten Conference schools and at Twin Cities-area colleges and universities.
Once the changes are in effect, the U will join the University of Maryland as the only Big Ten institutions that are “evaluating the use of those descriptors in a case-by-case basis,” U spokesman Steve Henneberry said.
Kaler said in a statement that he reached the decision after conferring with outgoing university Police Chief Greg Hestness, Wheelock and other school leaders and reviewing “the practices of a number of other colleges and universities.”