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Guskiewicz workshops Alert Carolina after crimes rattle students

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz hears from the Chancellor's Advisory Committee in the conference room of South Building in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.
Buy Photos Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz hears from the Chancellor's Advisory Committee in the conference room of South Building in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.

On the heels of a week in which a series of incidents around Chapel Hill caused fear and unrest for students, interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz turned to a panel of faculty advisors for suggestions on how to optimize UNC’s Alert Carolina System.

Alert Carolina is a joint venture, maintained by UNC’s Department of Public Safety, The National Weather Service and UNC Communications. 

After a recent sexual assault in the Shortbread Lofts parking deck, Guskiewicz said nine hours went by before Chapel Hill Police alerted the University to the situation.

“We’re looking at Alert Carolina, and the way it’s being used,” he said. 

The attack happened around 3 a.m. in an area outside of UNC’s jurisdiction. UNC Police Chief David L. Perry, who is still in his first month on the job after coming to UNC from Florida State University, has been in communications with Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Guskiewicz said. The two men are collaborating to apprehend the suspect in the Shortbread assault. 

“We have increased our downtown foot patrols, and we are grateful for the additional officers that UNC Police has offered to supplement those patrols in our Central Business District,” Blue said in a mass email sent by the University. 

Perry said he spent much of his first day looking over UNC's policy for sexual assault investigations. At FSU, he made it mandatory for two investigators to be assigned to every sexual assault case. UNC requires just one investigator, but Perry said he plans to implement the two investigator policy in the future. 

There is up to a $2,000 reward on the table for information that leads to an arrest. 

In the time since the Shortbread attack on Friday, Sept. 13, there have been two more criminal incidents in which women were targeted. On Sunday night, someone attempted to break into the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house, residents say. And last Tuesday, there was a report of sexual harassment outside Davis Library.

In response to recent events, Guskiewicz said the University has been exploring installing more security cameras and lighting on campus, as well as increasing the police presence. 

At the meeting in South Building on Tuesday, he told faculty that he and his administration are also looking into the Alert Carolina feature. 

Guskiewicz said some people feel that Alert Carolina might be over-saturated with information, and people might be disengaging to avoid receiving extraneous information. 

“Some people don’t like the fact that every thunderstorm pops up,” he said. “Some people deactivate it because they don’t want to constantly be getting weather updates when they come in the same way of a safety issue like this.”

Rohit Ramaswamy, a professor in the Public Health Leadership Program, told the interim chancellor that recent events had led to some students, especially women, changing their behavior for safety reasons. 

Female students have started to carpool into campus when coming at night, he said. 

“We’re trying to find that balance," Guskiewicz said. "If that means over-messaging, then that’s what we’ll do."

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