“I am sure that every parent feels the way I do,” she said. “I worry about it every day.”
Experts say officials need to strike a balance — not over- or under-using their alert systems.
“When a text alert comes across to a student’s cellphone, they need to take action immediately,” perhaps avoiding campus or locking the dorm door, said S. Daniel Carter, who works for a campus safety advocacy group started by the families of victims and survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre. “If they get an alert about a situation that has already been resolved, they’re going to take it less seriously.”
That students will heed police warnings, after all, is not a given. When a gunman fled toward Ohio University after a robbery last month, officials canceled classes. But instead of holing up inside, some students went to the bars, tweeting about their revelry using the hashtags #FugitiveFest and #GundayFunday, according to reports in the student-run newspaper.
Georgetown Police Chief Jay Gruber said he believes that is one “unintended consequence” of a well-intentioned law.
“I would say that most colleges struggle with the same thing,” he said.
Of the five recently reported robberies at Maryland, only one was on campus — a Feb. 8 incident in a parking lot in the heart of campus. Another robbery was determined to be a story fabricated by a student who owed a relative money. Police made arrests in two of the other cases.
Crime at Maryland has fallen in many categories in recent years. There were five robberies last year, including two off-campus cases in which U-Md. police arrested suspects. In 2005, there were 18 robberies. Overall crime on campus dropped by nearly 5 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to university police data.
And while some people believe crime has risen in the immediate off-campus area, crime rates have remained relatively flat there, according to data from Prince George’s County police.
Mitchell said he sent a letter to the campus community Thursday highlighting some of his force’s recent efforts to keep the campus safe, including beefed-up patrols. He said the university has allocated $500,000 to hire and equip five new officers to patrol off-campus areas — including the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
Mitchell said he plans to send out a similar message monthly that discusses crime on and off campus and efforts to stop it. That, he hoped, might put the worried parents who e-mailed him at ease.
“You would infer from those alerts that this huge crime wave is coming through campus,” he said. “There needs to be, though, a balance here where we look at a bigger picture.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.