Police chief describes crime alerts

Laura Wilson, a Stanford alumna who has been the university’s chief of police since 2002, earned her master’s degree in homeland security at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security last September. In a recent interview, Wilson talked about how the Department of Public Safety advises the community about crime, and its efforts to teach everyone how to ensure safety on the Farm.

How does the department let the community know about crimes that have occurred on campus?

For incidents that pose an immediate threat to the community, such as an active shooter or a credible bomb threat, we utilize the AlertSU system to send an “immediate notification.” The AlertSU system allows us to send out text messages, make automated phone calls, send emails or any combination of them. We may also utilize the outdoor siren warning system.

For incidents that do not appear to pose an immediate threat to the community but might represent an ongoing danger, such as a sexual assault reported to police days after the incident, we send out “timely warnings.” A timely warning will typically come in the form of an email, but other modes of communication could be used as well, including phone calls, text messages, posting information on the university’s main webpage and, depending on the situation, even using KZSU.

How do you decide which types of incidents merit immediate notification or a timely warning?

It is a judgment call. For example, if a person reports having been the victim of a robbery immediately after the crime occurred, then we will likely send out an “immediate notification” using text messages, phone calls and emails.

If, on the other hand, the person waits to report the crime until the next day, we will likely send a “timely warning” message using email, because the threat is not immediate but might still pose an ongoing threat to the community. 

The purpose of sending an immediate notification as well as a timely warning is to enable individuals to take preventive action to help contribute to their safety. The speed with which that action needs to be taken is the factor which determines how quickly we push out messages and what modalities we use. We are aware that if we use the system too often, people may become immune to it. At the same time, Stanford is required to send out timely warnings under a federal law known as the Clery Act. [The act, which is formally known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, was championed by the parents of Jeanne Clery, a student murdered at Lehigh University in 1986.]

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