Monday, September 26, 2011

What's With the Ineffective Wanted Signs?

Many university campus security units must have campus alerts. A basic heads up and constant reminder for university students to be wary of their surroundings, I have been troubled by the content that is posted. While I cannot really put my finger on what is necessarily wrong, I feel that it is appropriate to discuss the effectiveness and side effects that derive from their frequent appearances. 
A little informal background information of my current area would include that west Philadelphia has a predominantly black neighborhood (so I've heard,) we are NOT the south district of Philly that has experienced new curfews, and students are constantly reminded to travel in packs of at least two if not three. 
Now, the last three campus wide alerts all report a crime against university students. The general format of the warnings start with a simple explanation of what happened, (maybe too simple because I have heard the same story retold with new facts added when people gossip over it.) My confusion or issue comes from the next segment of the alert; the description of the perpetrator/suspect. The third and final piece of the alert ends on a friendly reminder to avoid being alone. 
While there is a simple issue over how much facts should be shared with members of the university, I would argue too little information, which in the last three cases prove to be evident, allows for false rumors to spread. The idea of how much information is to be shared obviously has lots of strings attached, such as the privacy of the victims.
But nevertheless, the privacy of the perpetrator/suspect is not. And of course it isn't. Typically, a wanted sign pops up after a crime is committed when the perpetrator is not found. A victim or a witness recalls as best they can the details of the perpetrator-now-made suspect.
This process is attempted in campus alerts, so I have found. While a sketch gives university members (faculty, students, staff) a rough, sometimes inaccurate portrayal of the suspect, it still gives the brain something to remember. I find that the problem arises from the campus alert, which uses words alone because the victims in the three recent instances cannot recall their attacker. This allows for all the university to use their oh-so-creative minds to formulate what the suspect looks like. What's the problem in that?
Well, for one, it is ineffective and self-demoting for campus security to only possess the means to give a half-hearted description of a criminal. It would also help for you to know that the last three crimes that ended up on campus alerts were committed by "black" people. 
At this point, I am at a complete loss what to think. Is it racist to be identifying the criminals by their race? By no means is it when a complete description of the suspect is given. However, the only characteristic that is shared is the perpetrator's race. What's to be gained from the knowledge that one black male committed a crime in a predominantly black neighborhood? The last instance goes like this: "While the precise location of the assault remains unknown, it is believed that the assault occurred inside of what was perceived by the student reporting the assault to be a taxi-cab. The vehicle has been described as being either green and white or black and white." So are university students not suppose to enter taxi cabs with any color of the rainbow with a "black male, dark complexion with a raspy voice, no accent?"
Maybe I think in a teleological sense in which everything must have an end and a purpose. But really, with a description that vague, all the reader is left with is an incomplete description of a black cab driver. So maybe the message is stereotyping. Well, what does anyone take away from the campus alert then? Be wary of taxi drivers? "Also, please make a concerted effort to notice descriptors of vehicles, including taxi-cabs and details regarding the driver, when entering a vehicle."
I do see the value, the recompense, the equality in which the victim has a right to use the resources that are given. But when the positive effectiveness of his or her description is outweighed by the negative, is it not incriminating (to say the least) to just throw a description out there?
I can't decide what to think over this. Is it racist? I don't particularly think so. But what is it called then when the description gives no more evidence other than skin color? Maybe I am over-exaggerating the ineffectiveness of the recent campus alerts. But who is being kept safe by now knowing the last three crimes against university students were committed by one of the many black members of west Philadelphia?

Please share your thoughts and comments below as my opinion is far from being formulated. 


  1. I think you make a great point in this article: being in a predominately black neighborhood makes the description "black" almost useless, especially when it's the only element of the description that the victim can come up with.
    I enjoyed reading this. Keep posting!

  2. I really enjoyed the article. I too find the descriptions of the attackers to be very pointless and unhelpful. However, I think some of it has with these incidents being under investigation by the Philadelphia police. It at least says in the taxi cab rape incident that a further description is available but has not been released due to the fact that the ivestigation is still ongoing. I would not be suprised to see them update it at a later date. Some of the vagueness of the descriptions may also have to do with victims only remembering so much about the appearance of their attackers. Everything happens so fast and often times it is at night, so people often do not get a good look at their attackers. The school is trying to inform the student body in order to keep them safe. Their intentions are good but the descriptions do come off as very racist and unhelpful when they only list the attacker's skin color.

  3. @Anonymous2
    I agree with what you're saying completely. I felt at a few points in the article I was playing devil's advocate in that obviously, they would list more if they could! And yes their intentions come off as good, my point was that alone enough to justify listing just their race...thanks for your post!

  4. Not sure why the details are that important. Wouldn't anyone behaving in a suspicious manner be someone to avoid? (regardless of color, height, etc.). Might it be helpful to put out an alert saying that criminal behavior has been reported in the area? Just a thought... interesting blog!
    I also think it's interesting how no one identifies themselves on this blog~

  5. How much information is necessary. What is the University"s repsonsibility? I think they should only post the event and location of the criminal act and warn students to be extra vigilant in that area. The only people who should have a description are the ones who are going to apprehend the "suspect", and that is the police. The description that you mentioned (i.e Black)is very superficial and leads to discrimination by identifying a race not a actual suspect. Great blog.