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Officials: University keeps no record of HawkAlert usage

BY KRISTEN EAST | NOVEMBER 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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Though University of Iowa police said they are working to improve the HawkAlert system, the university keeps no records of previously issued alerts.

And UI spokesman Tom Moore said there is no "operational need" to retain that data.

"There is no regulatory requirement that the university track the issuance of these messages," he wrote in an email.

Moore said staff in the UI police dispatch center are responsible for sending the HawkAlert, but UI leaders also have that capability.

Though there have been no changes since last December, Associate Director of UI police David Visin said UI police have been working to improve the HawkAlert system — which has been criticized in recent years for not issuing timely warnings. One way officials are trying to improve HawkAlert is by using social media.

"Trying to use social media is better for the HawkAlert system," Visin said. "That's in the works, and it's been in the works for a while. We're always looking at how to improve the system."

A team of about 15 people receive training twice a year to learn how to send HawkAlerts, and they practice sending alerts several times a month, Visin said.

The Clery Act — a federal law — requires universities to alert their students when there's a threat to faculty, staff, and students on or near the main campus. According to the U.S. Department of Education, consequences for noncompliance can be as high as $27,500 per violation.

And following a delay in the HawkAlert issued Monday night, Iowa City and UI police are split on whether the situation warranted an alert.

Iowa City police received a domestic-dispute report at 9:08 p.m. Monday night, and UI police received the same report an hour later. A HawkAlert was issued at 10:27 p.m. UI and Iowa City police said they don't know what happened in that time period, even though each department can monitor the others' radio traffic.

"There's all sorts of ways information can be shared," said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton.
Visin said UI police only react on the information they receive.

"I can't explain from 9 to 10 p.m. what happened," Visin said. "We don't know what Iowa City police were doing."

Visin said he thought the HawkAlert — which was issued 17 minutes after UI police received the report — was timely.

But Brotherton said she didn't see the connection between Monday's HawkAlert and Iowa City police's investigation.

"We were investigating something that wasn't on campus," Brotherton said. "If a crime occurred on campus, [UI police] would be investigating it. [The victim and suspect] weren't affiliated with campus."

Visin said UI police examine each situation individually to decide whether a HawkAlert is necessary.

"[The HawkAlert] is a snapshot of what we believe at that point, but that information could be totally wrong," he said. "That's the way emergencies happen. You get initial information, and it could be totally wrong 15 minutes later."


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