UpennAlerts
Photo: Bonnie Mendelson

Almost a dozen safety alerts have been sent out to the Penn community since the beginning of this summer — but students have been surprised to find out that not all crimes on campus prompt a notification. 

After a man indecently exposed himself outside of her kitchen window near 39th and Delancey streets, College sophomore Sabrina Palacios was surprised to find out that no UPennAlert was sent out.

At about 2:40 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21, Palacios and her two roommates made eye contact with a man blatantly urinating outside of their kitchen window and then watched as he sat on their front steps afterward. After calling the Penn Police Department, Palacios’ roommate College sophomore Lilly Balla, said she also witnessed the man engaging in lewd acts.

Palacios said that the Philadelphia Police Department called the incident “no joking matter,” because of the man’s criminal record, which included convictions for sexual assault.

“As a girl on a college campus, that was an issue,” Palacios said.

Palacios and Balla said that Philladelphia Police discouraged them from writing a report because it “would get swept under the rug.” Instead, Palacios and Balla said, they just let the man go free. 

Palacios said she was “livid there was no alert” sent out to other people in the Penn community, especially because the man was let go after the incident. When she spoke to Penn Police, she said they told her that it was policy to only send out alerts when the identity of the perpetrator is unknown.

Palacios said they told her it would “dilute the system” to continually send out alerts even when they know who the perpetrator is and it may create a similar effect to a “witch-hunt.”

The Division of Public Safety's Director of Operations and External Affairs Kathleen Shields Anderson wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the “UPennAlert Emergency Notification System is only activated for significant emergencies that are confirmed by law enforcement personnel and with the approval of the University’s senior leadership.

The UPennAlert is not activated if in the professional judgment of the responsible authorities such a notification would compromise efforts to resolve the emergency,” she added.

Anderson said that this has been the policy of DPS for several years. Drexel University shares this alert policy, clarifying on its website that DrexelALERT is only sent regarding potential threats such as “ [an] armed suspect on the loose, [an] active fire or [a] credible bomb threat.”

“DrexelALERT notifies the community of real-time potential threats, not general public safety incidents that may not amount to an ongoing threat,” the website stated.

Palacios, however, said that “as a student [she] would like to know” about what incidents occur on-campus, especially since in this case, this man “was still walking around” after the indecent exposure. She suggested that the University create another system to notify students of sexual assault-related crimes specifically.

Balla agreed, saying she was shocked that students were not made aware of this situation.

“They just let him free,” Balla said. “He could’ve just wandered to the next street over.”

She called for “more transparency about incidents and greater focus placed on these issues,” questioning how often these situations occur on campus.

Anderson said that any member of the Penn community interested in finding out about criminal activity in the Penn Patrol Zone can either check the daily crime-log on the DPS website or in their office at 4040 Chestnut St. on the kiosk or in a printed copy.

“The Division of Public Safety encourages all present and prospective members of the Penn community to educate themselves about the various types of criminal incidents occurring in the Penn Patrol Zone,” Anderson said.

College sophomore and Communications Director of the Undergraduate Assembly Jordan Andrews said she was also concerned that someone with a known criminal history who had exposed himself was free to walk around campus.

"If an alert can't go out because of procedure, still make others aware," Andrews said. "I know that student outreach and student voices can be heard a lot on this campus, especially recently with articles, petitions and even Facebook posts going viral.

"Not that the onus should be on the students, but students really are powerful and have a voice, especially if they are concerned about something," she said.

Andrews said that in her experiences with DPS, she has found that student safety is always their primary concern. She said that there can never be too much awareness of their services, though.

"Even if one student didn't know there was a log existing on a website where they could find out their relative safety or if there were a known perpetrator in the area that would be a problem," Andrews said.

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