April 7, 2022
Do Campus Crime Alerts Keep Students Safe?
By Lisa Herforth-Hebbert
Timely Warning notifications were designed to provide community members with important information during an emergency, but there are unintended consequences.
On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, over 50,000 New York University students’ phones buzzed at the same time. An identical notification appeared on their screens: “Safety Alert—Shots Fired.” A few minutes later, their phones buzzed a second time with an update: A shooting incident had taken place near the NYU Metrotech campus in Brooklyn, and a stray bullet hit an NYU student in the arm.
NYU’s safety notifications, and others like them at universities across the country, are known as “Timely Warning” notices. Students cannot unsubscribe from these warnings; they are mandated by federal law by the Clery Act of 1990, named after Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her university halls in Pennsylvania.
The law requires that all accredited universities collect statistics and records of specific categories of crimes on campus, and asks campus officials to assess whether there is a “serious or ongoing threat to the campus community” in real-time as a crime or emergency unfolds. If so, they must issue a Timely Warning to all staff and students. Failure to comply may result in universities’ being fined up to almost $60,000. The robust enforcement mechanism and hefty fines incentivize careful compliance, supposedly rendering college campuses more secure environments.