University officials have addressed the use of the Eagle Alert emergency system in light of recent events, including when it was not used to notify students of a fatal shooting that occurred near campus earlier this month.
On Sept. 12, a deceased male was found in the 2200 block W. Prairie St, across from the Traditions and Santa Fe Square residence halls. The death was ruled as a suicide by a self-afflicted gunshot, according to campus police.
A university spokesperson tweeted that the university did not send out an Eagle Alert because the incident did not involve a university student and the shooting “[did] not pose any safety threat to the UNT community.”
“That was a suicide,” university Police Chief Ed Reynolds said. “There was no threat in this community. We were on the scene in a matter of seconds, our officers were the first ones.”
Reynolds said Eagle Alert falls under the Clery Act, which only allows officials to send an emergency notification if there is an imminent threat on campus, such as an active shooting. If an active shooter is on campus, officers hit an emergency dispatch button and send out an Eagle Alert.
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires institutions of higher education in the U.S. to disclose campus security information including crime statistics for the campus and surrounding areas, according to clery.unt.edu. It also requires the university to identify individuals and organizations to which crimes may be reported.
Reynolds said under the Clery Act, campus police send out a ‘timely warning,’ a notification for cases such as a burglary or sexual assault that are under investigation. Reynolds said Eagle Alert is for emergencies only and is not a timely warning nor for information sharing.
Students have expressed concerns about the failure to send an Eagle Alert regarding incidents that occur near residence halls.
Media arts sophomore José Cañedo said he arrived at Santa Fe Square 10 minutes after the Sept. 12 incident. He and some friends saw police presence looking at the deceased body.
Cañedo said he understands why campus police did not send out an Eagle Alert but wanted an official email statement regarding the suicide.
“I get it but I don’t agree with it,” Cañedo said. “I get why they didn’t do [an alert]. It is technically not on property, but I would appreciate [it if] North Texas or Denton County would release statements.”
Reynolds said he understands students’ concerns but believes there is a difference between what students need to know and what they would like to know.
“If you go home to your apartment and you see an ambulance and a fire truck next to your neighbor, you’d love to know what was probably going on, most people would, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know,” Reynolds said.
Campus police assess information during an incident and determine whether there is a continuing risk to enact the Eagle Alert. The decision to activate the Eagle Alert system is made by President Neal Smatresk, Reynolds, the provost and vice president of academic affairs and the vice president for finance and administration.
In April, the Denton Police Department advised residents to stay indoors following the discovery of a gunshot victim in the area of I-35 and McCormick Street. The suspect fled the scene, prompting armed police officers stationed near campus. An Eagle Alert was not sent because police “did not believe it was a campus threat,” according to the university.
Reynolds said the decision not to send an Eagle Alert was due to campus police knowing where the suspect was. Campus police set up a perimeter around Eagle Drive street in case there was something they did not know about. Reynolds said Denton Police sent the alert message intended for Denton neighborhoods.
“We had officers that were embedded with the [Denton] police department, and we knew where the actual threat was,” Reynolds said. “So we were actually on the scene, assessing the situation in real-time with them.”
Leigh Anne Gullett, associate director of reputation management of the Brand Strategy and Communications department, said in an email that UBSC sends the Eagle Alert messages but it does not decide what to send. The alert system is only intended for critical situations and that information will always come from either police or emergency management, Gullett said.
Due to the Clery Act, the rules regarding when it is appropriate to send an Eagle Alert will not change in the future. Reynolds said if it does, he fears students will ignore a consistent Eagle Alert.
“My fear is sending an Eagle Alert for stuff that are not threats, people become desensitized to it, and don’t pay attention to it,” Reynolds said. “I want to make sure that if we send that out, our students, faculty and staff know this is a real emergency and they need to take some action immediately.”
Illustration by Meredith Holser / Original photo by John Anderson