“I saw that posted on Overheard at UNC,” senior Ashley McGee said. “We’re hearing about things through Facebook quicker than through Alert Carolina.”
Other students said the system tends to send out unimportant alerts while leaving students in the dark about incidents they want to hear about.
“It’s very informative, but often delayed and sometimes unnecessary in terms of the notifications we receive,” senior Kristina Kerr said, citing the flood alerts sent out over the summer.
The Clery Act of 1990 lies out rules that colleges must adhere to when communicating with students about crimes on or near campus. The act requires institutions to provide timely warnings in the event of a crime that threatens student or staff safety.
But in practice, the standard for notifications is murky.
“If there’s an imminent threat and danger to the campus community, we’re going to put the information out,” said Randy Young, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.
Young said there are two reasons the department would decline to send an alert to students.
The first is when disclosing information might impede an investigation by complicating the process of apprehending a suspect. The second is when a suspect has been apprehended and poses no further threat to the campus community.
Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration at Duke University, oversees Duke’s emergency alert system.
“There tend to be idiosyncratic issues of every case that will ultimately influence your decision. You can have a situation where you have assessed that there may be no ongoing risk,” Cavanaugh said.
The Department of Public Safety’s discretion has raised concern among students.
“It’s an issue of safety,” junior Elaine Lanze said. “I ought to know if someone is found dead in their car, because I might want to walk with someone else or be more careful in that area.”
Young said DPS is currently investigating the death of Fatolu while they await the autopsy results.
“We have not put anything out through Alert Carolina because there is no evidence that there is any threat to the campus community or the surrounding community,” Young said.
Young said crimes that take place off campus do not necessarily warrant an alert unless they represent a clear threat to the campus community.
“If there is an armed robbery on Franklin, before we put something out we would check with the Chapel Hill Police Department to make sure that our publishing of information would not impede their investigation,” Young said.