Timely Warnings, ISUAlerts work to keep campus safe, informed

Lissandra Villa

On Monday, March 31, ISU students received a Timely Warning via email to notify them of a sexual assault that had occurred in one of the residence halls the previous day. This was the result of a reevaluation of Iowa State’s response to such crimes.

It is important for students to be aware of Iowa State’s policy regarding sexual assaults, said Keith Bystrom, associate counsel for Iowa State. Particularly, he said, going into Veishea, a time during which crime rates have had a tendency to increase.

“What we’re going to be doing now, which is not that much different than what we did before, is, on a case by case basis consider when a timely warning would improve campus safety for all crimes that are listed under the Clery Act regulations, and we will pay special attention to all cases involving sexual crimes,” Bystrom said.

Additionally, if a sexual assault occurs between acquaintances, a timely warning response will not be automatically ruled out, Bystrom said.

Bystrom said the policy was refined in February in order to ensure compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

“We saw, just as the University of Iowa saw, that there was a need to improve the timely warning side of our Clery Act compliance,” Bystrom said. “So we put together this group that looked at the issues and ended up making recommendations, and it’s being implemented now.”

Entities involved in the decision making process included University Counsel’s Office, ISU Police, Dean of Students Office, Office of Equal Opportunity and the Office of the President.

The Clery act, according to the Timely Warning sent out, “requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses, including timely warnings of crimes that may represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.”

The criteria used to decide whether a Timely Warning is warranted are the following:

• Nature of crime

• Continuing danger to the campus community

• Risk of compromising law enforcement efforts

• Amount and quality of information known at the time

• Consideration of victim’s input

“The Secretary does not believe that a definition of ‘timely reports’ is necessary or warranted,” state U.S. Department of Education comments on the approval of Clery Act Regulations, dated April 29, 1994.

For Iowa State, the answer to the question of timeliness depends on the circumstances of the case.

“In our mind, it means that we have the warning go out based upon the circumstances of each case as soon as we have the information that is available to be provided,” Bystrom said. “It really is a case by case analysis.”

Jerry Stewart, director of public safety for Iowa State, said via email that sometimes there is a lack of understanding as to how ISU Alerts and Timely Warnings are similar and different.

Situations for which ISU Alert would be used, for example, include active shooters, civil unrest and natural gas leaks.

ISU Alerts, Stewart said, are “used when there is confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on campus.”

In contrast, Timely Warnings are intended to “enable people to protect themselves” against crimes such as burglaries and assaults.

“We received a good number of incredibly positive replies, thanking us for our transparency and comprehensive approach regarding this issue,” Stewart said about the incident last week.

The Clery Act requires campuses to report on criminal homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson, according to the Clery Center for Security on Campus’s website.

Iowa State works closely with Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support, a nonprofit organization, when sexual assault situations are reported.

ACCESS provides sexual assault victims confidential counseling. The organization receives some funding from the Government of the Student Body.

“ISU Police and ACCESS have a very good working relationship,” said Steffani Simbric, coordinator for the Story County Sexual Assault Response Team. “ACCESS actually has office hours at our department.”

Simbric said students can speak to someone from ACCESS without having to talk to ISU Police. However, every time a sexual assault case is reported to ISU Police, ACCESS is involved.

“One of the reasons for the Timely Warning is the kind of information that we include in the Timely Warning,” Bystrom said. “It’s not just that a crime has been committed. It’s also that we have many resources on campus to assist victims and survivors of sexual assault.”

In Iowa, sexual assault medical exams are free, and victims have up to 10 years after they document evidence of sexual assault to decide whether to pursue legal action.

“That gives people time to think things through,” Simbric said. “It doesn’t have to be that night, and they have time if they need it.”