University of Minnesota to Stop Using Race in Crime Alert Suspect Descriptions

The administration reverses course and now views a suspect’s race as “too general” of a descriptive characteristic to be useful to provide to its community; gender descriptions, however, will remain

universityofminnesota10.pngThe University of Minnesota community was notified Wednesday by President Eric Kaler and Vice President Pamela Wheelock about a new policy that has been implemented regarding the information with which the community will be provided when serious crimes occur on or near campus.

For the past several years “crime alerts” have been issued by the University Police Chief for “crimes that may pose an ongoing threat to the University community” in order to “aid the campus community in its safety.”

Crime alerts (which are issued in compliance with the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act) are generally reserved for serious crimes such as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and arson.

Previously, crime alerts would include specific information such as the date, time, and location of the crime (including a map), a description of the crime that took place, as well as the characteristics of the suspect.

Such characteristics, if provided by the victim, would usually include the suspect’s gender, age, clothing or other identifying features, and race.

The new policy, however, will no longer include racial descriptions in most circumstances.

“Vice President Wheelock is announcing a change that will reduce the use of suspect descriptions in Crime Alerts when there is insufficient detail to reasonably aid in individual identification.”

To be clear: Where there is sufficient information to aid our community in identifying a suspect who presents risk, we will continue to include that information. Where the information is too general to advance that goal, we will note that only a limited description of the suspect(s) is available.”

This new policy was evident from a University of Minnesota Crime Alert issued this Monday in which a student was a victim of a criminal sexual assault over the weekend:

“The victim describes the suspect as a male, approximately five feet eight inches to five feet eleven inches tall with a medium build. The suspect is between the ages of 25 and 28 years old and spoke with an accent.”

The race or a similar physical description of the suspect is not mentioned.

President Kaler and the University have been under pressure since late 2013 to change the policy of using racial descriptions in its crime alerts from members of the African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males.

These groups expressed concerns in a letter to the University that “efforts to reduce crime should never be at the expense of our Black men, or any specific group of people likely to be targeted. In addition to causing Black men to feel unsafe and distrusted, racial profiling is proven to inflict negative psychological effects on its victims.”

At that time, the University did not opt to change its practice of including race as a suspect identifier, with Vice President Wheelock stating in January 2014:

“We have reviewed what other Big Ten Universities and local colleges and universities include, and our practice of including the race of a suspect when it is available from a victim’s description is consistent with their practices.”

However, today’s statement reverses that policy. President Kaler wrote:

“Use of race in suspect descriptions in our Crime Alerts may unintentionally reinforce racist stereotypes of Black men, and other people of color, as criminals and threats. That in turn can create an oppressive climate for some members of our community, a climate of suspicion and hostility.”

The implication of the new policy, as confirmed by the crime alert issued on February 23rd mentioned above, is that the University does not view the gender of the suspect to be “too general” to advance the goal of identifying the suspect (the suspect was described as “male”) but that race is.

In her announcement Wheeler stated:

“For some, knowing they have all the information available about a crime, including the complete suspect description, makes them feel better informed and increases how safe they feel. But others — particularly Black men — have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety. They express concern that Crime Alerts that include race reinforce stereotypes of Black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.

To address this complex issue, we are changing our approach on the use of suspect descriptions in Crime Alerts. Moving forward, the University will only use a suspect description when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group. This is a change from current practice, which is to include a suspect description regardless of the level of detail provided. The Chief of Police and I will decide whether to include a suspect description in a Crime Alert on a case-by-case basis.”

The university did not offer any information in their statement as to whether or not withholding racial descriptions from the University community in its crime alerts would impact apprehending suspects.

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19 Comments on "University of Minnesota to Stop Using Race in Crime Alert Suspect Descriptions"

  1. Yo African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males,

    Now that this battle is over, maybe you can focus your energy more towards the actual root issue. Any interest in addressing the much bigger problem, that is:

    ‘Why are people of color disproportionately represented in suspect descriptions?’

    I do not think most victims of assault/muggings/thefts/etc on campus are lying about the races of the suspects. So why, when there is a crime committed on campus, is it more likely to be done so by a person of color?

  2. So if a crime is committed and the race is omitted, no matter what the race is, how is this new policy protecting potential victims? Shouldn’t I be able to know what to look out for whether it is a black or white male or female, or do I not matter? This doesn’t make me feel very safe!!

  3. If they can’t tell us the color or race of a person, why should they tell us if they are a male or a female, their height, that they have an accent, or what kind of clothes they are wearing. All the people who fit the description given will be looked at with fear and considered a threat. Maybe this will create a hostile reaction toward people in jeans since suspects are often described as wear jeans (I’m being factious but I’m trying to make a point.) It is unfortunate that people feel threatened due to another person’s choice to commit a crime, but this is a matter of public safety! Tell us, with as much description as is available, who we need to be watching out for!

  4. “Crime alerts…are generally reserved for serious crimes such as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and arson.”

    When a serious crime is committed such as these, ANY information is sufficient even if that includes race. It narrows things down to allow for those who have committed such a serious crime to be brought to justice and prevents it from happening again.

    “The victim describes the suspect as a male, approximately five feet eight inches to five feet eleven inches tall with a medium build. The suspect is between the ages of 25 and 28 years old and spoke with an accent.”

    They just described millions of people. This could be ANYONE! People from all over the country and then the world speak with accents depending on who you ask. (Minnesotans have an accent.) This is going to cause bigger issues and the police are not going to be able to keep up with the amount of “tips” coming in as people point out their “suspects” because the people calling in don’t know what they are actually looking for. Race can assist in separating suspects to save future victims.
    They really need to rethink this one through.

  5. The organizations listed as being in favor of this change are not a coalition of various minority groups. I have not heard any complaints from the chinese, latino, indigenous peoples, or white student groups.

    Let’s just not report the race when it’s a black suspect, which will appease the afro-centric groups, but still report the race when it is one of the other groups.

  6. A suspect description is not meant to target a specific race, it is only meant to describe the person that committed the crime. That being said, I do not see the point of protecting the criminals identity by leaving their race hidden. In an attempt to please the African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males, you are actually making race a bigger issue than it should be. If this is the way you wish to deal with the problem, then gender should be left out of the description as well. Also, maybe hair color because if a suspect with brown hair is mentioned, then anyone with brown hair might feel, as you say, “unsafe and distrusted”.

  7. So, if now if someone commits a crime would the sex of the person be omitted? I mean that would be sexist; wouldn’t it be? Get a grip you so called educated people. I hope you have to call a cop soon and give a description 🙂

  8. Is this real life? Feels like something out of a movie like Brazil or Idiocracy. How can such a giant moron rise so high in the administration of a university? Is this not the exact opposite of what one would want while getting an education? Talk about cutting off your own nose to spite your face. This rule is ludicrous and will do nothing but create more victims, discrimination, and profiling. Now everyone will be a suspect and fear of everyone will be the norm on campus. Good job idiots.

  9. All I can say is THANK GOD MY KIDS HAVE GRADUATED COLLEGE! Looking for a criminal without knowing what to look for is insane. To the school I say I will be sure to tell any student looking to go to your university to rethink that decision. To the Black organizations bringing this forward; I am not black so I am unable to fully understand how you feel however, that being said, the way you are going about it seems misplaced. I pray that your children never have to report a crime only to be required not to give a racial description ensuring the speediest of resolutions. I get mad as hell when everyday life takes a racial tone, but in this instance getting someone off the street in the quickest manner possible SHOULD take priority.

  10. Anti-racism is making the world less safe.

  11. President Eric Kaler and Vice President Pamela Wheelock are not very smart people. Or they are cowards as they bend to the pressure if the PC police with their anti race racism!
    I recommend omitting suspect’s gender as well – it is sexist!!

  12. Johnny McArthur | March 5, 2015 at 9:43 am | Reply

    This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard…facts are facts, why not give them out?

  13. It’s Minnesota. The state that has continually voted for Al Franken. The rest of the US is not surprised.

  14. Heard this story on the radio the other day…it is not a good idea to leave out the race of the person who committed the crime. It provides a clue/description for the community, what to look/look out for.

  15. Rocky Marciano - Greatest of all time. | May 5, 2015 at 2:39 am | Reply

    “Moving forward, the University will only use a suspect description when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group.”

    Translation – “Only when the victim is black and the suspect is white will suspects race be mentioned.”

  16. Non-incarcerated Black males between 14 and 50 make up about 4%-5% of the population. If you can eliminate 95% of the population by simply reporting race, that is a very good thing in the public interest. But this is a bad thing, according to the “wisdom” endorsed by the University of Minnesota.

    To censor Black crime is merely another futile attempt to spread the false illusion that everyone is the same.

    I suspect the University of Minnesota is also afraid of violent backlash from the Black community for posting the truth.

  17. Chet Bakerton | May 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Reply

    The disproportionate involvement of Black males in crime seems to be a given no matter the context. Even the mainstream media does the same type of “self-correcting” if anybody has noticed. Whenever they conspicuously fail to mention the perpetrator’s race, I’ve come to realize that this usually means they are Black. It sounds like the take-away here is to just assume the suspect is black by default. How disturbing is that?

  18. It used to be people going to college to get smarter. It appears now where people go to become dumber.

  19. Because, people will be “looking out” for Black and Latino people, no matter what they are wearing. Because, as the comments above clearly show, so many people are still racist, and need to be reigned in.

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