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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Thursday March 13, Rutgers University officials announced a major change in their policies for reporting crimes to the public.
“Under the new policy, all students, faculty, and staff on the New Brunswick Campus will be notified of serious crimes against persons that occur… anywhere in the fifth and sixth wards of the City of New Brunswick,” read the announcement.
The Fifth and Sixth Wards stretch from the Raritan River to the city’s border with Franklin Township, including half of Route 27 (French Street) and most of the city’s downtown.
The alerts are also made available to the general public on the Rutgers Police Department’s Nixle page.
Previously, the university stuck to very strict federally-defined criteria for when to issue a “campus alert.” In most cases, the crimes were not reported if they were not immediately on the campus property.
“In addition, the university will inform its community of serious incidents against Rutgers students, faculty and staff in other parts of the city and areas surrounding the campuses when the university is made aware of any incidents,” wrote interim Chancellor Dick Edwards.
Rutgers came under fire from outraged parents, frightened students, and journalists covering the crime epidemic, who called out the administration for not notifying their students of the unsolved murder of a former student.
The story was eventually picked up by the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper with the highest circulation in the United States. That article showed that the opinions of Rutgers officials seemed to conflict with one another on the issue of whether or not an alert should have been issued.
“Our new policy recognizes that adhering to the federal law simply doesn’t in all instances meet the needs of our community,” said University President Bob Barchi in the press release announcing the change.
It also marked the first time that the university acknowledged McCaw’s death in a university-wide communication.
“Such notification was not required following last month’s murder of our former student, William McCaw, who was killed at a location beyond the geographic limits set by the federal law,” read the announcement. “Under the new guidelines, this incident would trigger notification of the campus community.”
As we reported in 2013, Rutgers Police only issued alerts for “Clery crimes,” which are those determined to pose a danger to the campus under the federal Clery Act.
Because the body of the former student was found a few blocks away from campus, no alert was necessary under the act. No alert was issued, nor was any communication made to most of the school’s 65,000 students.
But, after a Rutgers student was pistol-whipped in his home on Louis Street Thursday, the school took the unusual step of issuing a crime alert. Officials confirmed it was a deviation from the regular procedure, because although Louis Street is home to many students, it is located roughly a half-mile from the campus.
Later in the day, Edwards formally announced the university’s change of heart, echoing sentiments he had reportedly made at a student government meeting one week earlier.
But it was not soon enough to alert the community of a man who randomly punched a 19-year-old Rutgers student who was minding her own business in the face after a barfight spilled out into the street.
Because the assault took place on George Street near Hotoke lounge, no crime alert was issued, even though the victim was just over a block away from her home at Rockoff Hall, a privately-owned university dormitory.
Under the new system, an alert would likely have been issued because the incident was in the Fifth Ward and the victim was a current student.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.