Sandi Schnmorenberg, the new director for security on the Mankato campus since Aug. 1, cleared up the vocalized concerns from last week’s MSSA meeting from lack of timely warnings. She especially addressed the reasons why the students received no alert on the sexual harassment attack that happened on Sept. 11.
Schnmorenberg retired in July after serving for thirty years from the Mankato Department of Public Safety and is an alumni who worked on the campus 20 years ago.
What constitutes a timely warnings is if a threat is “serious and continuing.” Security is the number one call number for students but if campus security requires more help in a crime, then security involves the Department of Public Safety.
“We work hand-in-hand with them, we share our reports with them,” Schnmorenberg explained. “They also share information back with us.”
Security issues three kinds of warnings: star alert, which is for a current incident on-campus or threatens the campus or surrounding areas. The incident include examples of armed intruder, a chemical spill, or a large fire or explosion. Security issues are these warnings through text messages, emails, and posters. They also make the phone number for personal safety readily available online.
Only four calls have been made to that line this year so far. The second kind of warning is a timely warning which is triggered by previous crimes but represent an ongoing threat like a sexual assault or armed robbery. The final warning is security advisories who investigate email scams students have received. Lately security is teaming with IT in investigating and resolving those issues so students no longer get those emails.
Security determines how it needs to notify their students of alerts by first examining the situation case-by-case.
“We consider the continuing danger to the campus, is the threat over or is it continuing?” Schnmorenberg added. “A rape on campus in which the suspect has not been caught is a continued risk. A rape on campus with the suspect has been caught, may or not be a continued risk. We have to look at the vitality of the circumstances to make sure that we are making the best decision that we can.” Helpful details may include whether or not the suspect and victim knew each other.
Laws also govern the information security tells the students for the safety and protection of the identities involved. The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act allows students to student what information they wish to release when they register on-campus. However, if there’s a health or safety risk to others, security may bypass those student requests.
Also suspects are still not guilty until they have been convicted of the crime. “Ask any number of people that have been accused of rape and in the end found innocent what that did to their life when all of the information came out,” Schnmorenberg said. “I think you’re going to find that it became a great detriment to the life they wanted to live.”
So on Sept.11, security chose to exercise discretion and not issue a warning after discovering the police department was in the middle of interviewing the victim and the witness. Since the suspect was also a student at Minnesota State University, the notification would have thwarted the police investigation and the need to make an arrest.
“We also have to consider the victim,” Schnmorenberg said. “The victim was already traumatized, so do we make it more traumatizing?”
Ultimately, the suspect was removed from campus and no longer a threat.
“I promise you as a director of security and this is a promise I can make and have no qualms about, that if there is a threat to anybody, as a result of something that’s happened, you will know about it,” Schnmorenberg stated.
In going forward, Schnmorenberg also promised there will be more discussion taking place about security advisories and how they are used. She stood by her original statement that she believed none of the students were in danger since the suspect was gone after the incident, but at the same time, she understands the concerns.
One of the senators posed a question if the students will have a voice in the content of the alerts sent. Overall Schnmorenberg answered student engagement would be welcome but would have to also consider the limit of how many students as well as the time efficiency. In the meantime, the campus is also actively seeking on how it can better educate the community or who would be the best to have a conversation with even before contacting security. Options like the Women’s Center and the Counseling Center were discussed.
“As I’m able to get to know you better, I am definitely partner oriented,” Schnmorenberg said. “I’ve learned in all 30 years of my career that you don’t get very far on your own. You have to learn to work together and solve problems to let the people who are affected have some say and empower them.”