BLOG: University of Minnesota Changes Crime Alerts Protocol, Does Race Matter?


Credit:  University of Minnesota
Credit: University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota has made national news recently for bowing to the pressure of campus activists and changing their protocol for issuing crime alerts, which will no longer always include a racial description of the suspect– even if it’s available.

University Vice President Pam Wheelock told WCCO News that “We need to have enough information about a suspect so that somebody can reasonably use that information to help keep themselves safe. Unless we have a sufficiency of information, we’re not actually going to use any suspect information.”

According to University crime alert archives, since the beginning of 2014 there were thirty incidents reported.  In the eight incidents of criminal sexual conduct and sexual assault, the suspect was a white male in six of those incidents, with the same suspect in three of the six incidents.  In only one of the sex crimes incidents was the suspect was a black male.  The race of the suspect was unknown in the remaining incident, yet the description said the male “spoke with an accent.”  In the cases of robbery, armed robbery, and attempted robbery, there were a total of twenty-two incidents with white male suspects reported in two of those incidents, a white female suspect in one incident, a Hispanic male in one incident, and black male suspects in fourteen incidents.  The race of the suspect was unknown in four incidents of robbery.

The Clery Act is a federal law that requires students to be notified of certain campus crimes.  The U.S. Department of Education issues guideless for college campus crime alerts which calls for inclusion of “all information that would promote safety and that would aid in the prevention of a similar crime.”  The University of Minnesota has chosen not to follow those guidelines by excluding race if the “description (of a suspect) is too general.”  University President Eric Kaler stated that he agreed with campus activists that using race consistently in all alerts would “create an oppressive climate for some members of our community.”

University officials have stated that the decision to remove race from some campus crime alerts was a part of an 18-month conversation about improving campus climate.  Some claim that the descriptions would lead people to believe that every person of color is a suspect.

Here are some examples of physical descriptions of suspects in 2014-2015 campus crime alerts:

  • The suspect is a black male, between five feet nine inches and five feet eleven inches tall with a medium build. The suspect had close cropped hair, a light mustache, and a mark under his right eye.
  • The suspect is described as a white male, between 45 and 50 years old, five feet, three inches to five feet four inches tall with a medium build.
  • The victim describes the suspect as a Hispanic male, 20 to 25 years old, with brown eyes and medium length, straight black hair.
  • The suspect as a black male, between the ages of 18 and 20 years old, six feet tall with a medium build. The suspect had medium length black hair styled in dread locks…

Would eliminating the race of a suspect make a difference in these descriptions?  It remains to be seen exactly how the University will implement their new policy and how it will affect campus safety.