‘Error in thinking’ puts students at risk

In the last week, UNA’s campus community has experienced several crimes, including an alleged rape and an arrest for alleged public lewdness.

These events are unfortunate and disturbing, but what has been equally disturbing is the handling of the incidences by UNA’s administration.

The rape was reported to police Sept. 26 at approximately 3 p.m., but the campus-wide email warning students that an alleged rape had occurred was not sent out until Sept. 28 in the late afternoon. And, as if that weren’t enough, the rape was called a sexual assault in the email.

According to Alabama law, sexual assault is an encompassing term for many sexual crimes. It could mean rape, or it could mean indecent exposure. While any sexual crime is serious, it’s important to know whether there’s an alleged rapist or an alleged flasher on campus. There’s a big difference.

Calling the alleged crime a sexual assault doesn’t express the same urgency or danger that calling it what it actually was—an alleged rape—does.

What is LionAlert for if not to warn students when there is a potential threat to their safety on campus? Approximately 48 hours elapsed before any student on campus knew that an alleged rapist was on the loose.

That’s 48 hours that the alleged rapist had to strike again — 48 hours that students walked around campus with no warning signals in their heads, no reason to have a heightened sense of their surroundings.

And if someone were to come forward and say they had been raped during that time period, the administration could very easily be held liable for not reporting the alleged crime to students in a timely manner.

UNA security officials’ failure to send out a LionAlert poses a threat to the safety of students and employees. Not making an announcement within 48 hours of a reported crime is simply inexcusable. The campus-wide email was sent out 47 hours — almost to the minute — after the victim reported the crime to police.

That’s just way too long for comfort. Why would UNA’s administration wait that long to let the campus community know about an alleged crime of that severity? It’s irresponsible.

And some readers might have heard (check out the front page) that the UNA math department received a letter containing a death threat Aug. 31 and a .44 magnum armor-piercing bullet in an envelope Sept. 28. It’s been way more than 48 hours since either of those incidents, and the campus community still has yet to receive an alert of any kind, other than a vague mention of a “terrorist threat” on the campus crime logs.

It seems a death threat and an armor-piercing bullet pose yet another potential threat to the safety of all UNA students and employees.

Officials said they wanted to gather more information about the alleged rape before reporting it to students. But the fact is a student reported that she had been raped. That’s enough to warn students about. No more information is necessary for a simple “watch-your-backs” or “don’t-go-anywhere-alone” warning.

And let’s not overlook the fact that, at the time of this writing, police have no suspects in the reported rape case, though they are pursuing leads.

Many students have been asking why we don’t have cameras in the parking deck. Not only would cameras act as an investigative tool, they could also act as crime deterrents.

Cameras were budgeted in the original plans for the deck in the early ‘90s, but they were left out due to final construction costs. Construction costs. We can afford to pursue transitioning to Division I athletics, have a game room, build new buildings, but we can’t afford cameras in the parking deck?

We can point a camera at one of the best-lit places on campus — the fountain — but we can’t point some at the place where a recurring number of campus crimes are reported?

To be fair, officials have been negotiating with security camera companies for the last month to buy cameras for the deck, but this is a case of too little, too late.

People have gotten hurt in that parking deck, and, looking back at TimesDaily articles from 2002, safety in the parking deck has been an issue for at least a decade.

If we’re going to move forward as an institution, security needs to be a higher priority. Let’s be proactive about crime, not reactive. Let’s hire additional police officers and pay for that new police dispatch center that officials recently said wasn’t an immediate concern.

Otherwise, the UNA administration is putting more students at risk.

The views expressed in this staff editorial are the collective opinions of The Flor-Ala’s editorial board.