If it took you a while to learn about the shooting near campus on Friday night, you might have been clued in by the whirr of the helicopter blades or by The Daily Pennsylvanian’s news updates, or even by the email sent the following day by the administration. But we wouldn’t fault you for not knowing about the event, because no UPennAlert was sent to the student body.
To recap, a gunman with a grudge against policemen shot a Penn Police officer, a Philadelphia Police sergeant and four civilians. Fifty-one shots were fired, one of the aforementioned civilians was killed, and multiple people ended up in critical condition. A perimeter was raised cordoning off the area between 47th and 53rd streets, seven blocks from the western edge of campus. The shooter was headed eastward in the direction of campus before his trajectory was cut short.
On Friday night, it’s safe to assume that a sizeable portion of the undergraduate student body is traversing beyond the western edge of campus, possibly — probably — intoxicated. Likewise, Penn students live as far out as 45th Street. It’s not implausible that students and other members of the Penn community would be out near the shooter, not checking their emails and ignoring the sirens as part of the background noise of any urban area.
Penn students should not have to be notified of threats to their immediate safety through social media. Quite frankly, the shooter was headed toward the part of campus that people were most likely to be, and we should have known about him.
Of course, the Division of Public Safety’s first priority needs to be keeping people safe, most notably, their own police officers. Of that we’re in agreement, and the officers involved did a commendable job of controlling and defusing the situation. And it’s telling of their abilities that in this case, fortunately, being ignorant of the shooter did not put any Penn student in danger. We would propose, however, that not notifying people of probable danger — even if outside the Penn patrol zone — is detrimental to the goal of keeping the Penn community safe.
Therefore, the UPennAlert system needs to be revised.
This is not the first time we have written about the problems with the UPenn Alert system. Last semester, a man was able to bring a machete into Van Pelt, and a UPennAlert was not sent out for a good 15 minutes, even as the man was inside Van Pelt carrying the blade.
Conversely, we also received an alert that there was an unarmed robbery at 4200 Pine Street last night — a situation less dangerous than the two above.
Penn administration and DPS need to think more carefully about what they are and aren’t releasing to the Penn public. Possible threats to student — and nonstudent — safety cannot go unreported to those who might be in danger.
DPS has been receptive to change in the past — last summer, they revised their opt in policy after alerts were not sent when there was a crime outside Kings Court English College House.
But as the system stands right now, the failure to inform students about the shooter implies that the system is more limited than it should be. DPS states that Penn students were not informed because the shooting was outside the patrol zone. Yet as we’ve stated earlier, Penn students venture further out than the patrol zone, either purposely or accidentally, and should be warned of particularly salient threats to their safety. Ten blocks, after all, is not that far a distance.
Even if events happen outside the patrol zone, we urge DPS to notify students of serious events that may compromise their safety. We’re not saying that DPS needs to broadcast every robbery or mugging, but serious threats, such as an armed shootout and blocked off streets, need to be communicated to the Penn community.
Letting students know about serious situations would also help prevent people from wandering onto active crime scenes, and keep them out of the way of officers.
This is not a matter of policy and technicalities, this is a matter of student safety.
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