Amid community concerns, BDA and Xavier Police work to get solutions
The Xavier University Police Department (XUPD) enters the new school year invigorated from a summer of training and intercollegiate conferences with the leadership of Chief Robert Warfel, who began his position this past spring.
But as Manresa wrapped up its second day on August 17, while students settled into dorms and upperclassmen settled into apartments, a man at the Metro stop at the intersection Reading Road and Dana Avenue intersection lost his life to a stray bullet.
Those on campus, however, were none the wiser as the Metro driver immediately sped off to University of Cincinnati Medical Center and students received no notification. For years the Xavier community has been notified of potential hazards to campus through the XU Alert Me system, which can send a text, phone call or email for instances from inclement weather to robberies.
The incident was news to sophomore Kayla Walton.
“It’s scary for me because I live off campus.. But right now I’m getting ready to, like, walk home,” Walton said. Before she headed off toward Montgomery Road in the dark, she added “I would like to know as soon as something happens… because I’m walking off campus a lot.”
First-years Emma Wurzer and Crystal Johnson were also unaware of the shooting and specified that information would have been useful for new faces on campus.
“Especially being a first-year, you don’t know the area around you as well,” Wurzer said. “I’m from out of state, so I really don’t know the area around me.”
After considering the location of the incident, Johnson added, “Say you were planning on going in that direction, (with an alert) you know to be aware so you can find a different route or stay on campus.”
However, Warfel said that the reason students did not receive an alert is because it was outside their jurisdiction.
“Our jurisdiction is essentially one square mile. We have that perimeter (for XU Alert Me) as well,” Warfel said.
Warfel explained that for an incident to be considered worthy of an XU Alert Me, XUPD reviews reports from the Cincinnati or Norwood police departments and determines whether the persons would come “toward campus or very close to campus to have students and faculty, staff, avoid the area or steer clear until the police activity is complete.”
“We’re not providing an update of current events, we’re providing information that’s going to be helpful… to the population that’s here that’s going to be directly impacted,” Warfel said.
Another factor in determining whether an event warrants an alert, Warfel reasoned, is how the alert may be received. For instance, XUPD received calls concerning an automated alert for a weather incident from community members who were unsure if they should be taking cover.
“These instances, unfortunately, in a metropolitan area, are going to continue to happen,” Warfel said. “The question is, does that have a direct impact or does it impact Xavier’s campus or Xavier’s population… That’s what weighs in more than anything else.”
Walton, however, disagrees.
“I get not wanting to (start a) panic, but the truth is the truth,” she said. “If someone’s that close to campus — it’s like a better safe than sorry thing in my opinion. That is hard, though.”
XUPD is fervently prioritizing the safety of campus through a few projects in collaboration with Student Government Association (SGA) executives, BDA (Blair Mckee, Desmond Varner and Alfredo Mercedes).
Warfel looked to improve active shooter procedure awareness through a video and trainings after hearing concerns from students and by working alongside BDA.
BDA will be working in the next few weeks to renew a joint commitment concerning community policing between XUPD and SGA that has been untouched since 2009. Students are welcome to bring suggestions to BDA or the public comment portion of upcoming SGA meetings.
Additionally, BDA started looking into resources last spring that would improve personal safety on campus, namely handheld devices called POM. Since then, BDA and Warfel have settled on an opt-in app for the Xavier community called XU Guardian that is currently being customized by the IT department to fit Xavier’s campus. The app is used at University of Cincinnati and has an array of features including one-touch connectivity to XUPD’s dispatch desk and geo-locating. Warfel noted that the app had been compared to “having a blue light (assistance phone) in your hand.”
Warfel is aiming for the app to be available by late October.
Whatever the issue may be, Warfel wants the community to know that XUPD is ready to approach them. “I want individuals to know they can contact Xavier officers, our dispatch, if they see a problem… We can’t respond or effectively curtail a potential issue or problem unless we have the information.”
By Heather Gast | Managing Editor
Newswire photo by Sydney Sanders