The spate of mayhem posed a problem for police and university officials, one they argue was mainly one of perception. Despite what students and their tuned-in parents think, crime at U-Md. has fallen in recent years, as it has on college campuses across the country. Some police officials blame the proliferation of systems that send out public safety alerts via e-mail, text and Twitter for fueling the false idea that universities are unsafe.
“The numbers, if you look at them, say this is one of the safest campuses in the United States,” Mitchell said. “But when you have a string of incidents, yes, fear goes up.”
Federal law has long required universities to alert their campuses of safety threats. But it wasn’t until after the April 16, 2007, massacre at Virginia Tech — a mass killing some argue could have been mitigated by a more prompt alert — that legislators and government officials injected real urgency into that requirement.
In 2011, the Department of Education published a campus security guidebook that devotes a chapter to emergency notifications. It says that “a warning should be issued as soon as the pertinent information is available.”
“This is critical; it’s expected that even if you don’t have all of the facts surrounding a criminal incident or incidents, you will issue a warning,” the book says.
Most four-year residential colleges and universities have an emergency alert system in place that sends texts and e-mails. The University of Maryland allows anyone to sign up. At Georgetown and George Washington universities, relatives receive alerts only if students add them to their accounts.
That helps explain why the more than 131,000 people who signed up for U-Md. alerts have been inundated with messages about robberies and indecent exposures in recent weeks.
Then, about 1 a.m. Tuesday, 23-year-old engineering graduate student Dayvon Green set several fires in and around the off-campus house in College Park where he lived and shot two of his roommates.
As 22-year-old English major Stephen Rane lay dead in front of the house and a wounded housemate fled to a neighbor’s, Green went around back and shot himself, police said.
Students and others took to Twitter to express their dismay. Some worried about their parents hearing the news via the text alerts.
“If my mom finds out whats been happening at umd she’s going to try to make me come home :/,” one wrote.
“The day that my mom signs up for the umd text alerts is the day that I will never go to college,” said another.