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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

What’s up With: NIU Safety Notifications?

Sam Dion
A phone lays on a table, open to the NIU Safe app main page. NIU has modified the criteria for what crimes are considered for a safety alert. (Sam Dion | Northern Star)

DeKALB – NIU’s Safety Notifications have decreased exponentially. Weekly notifications of “shots fired” and “stabbings” have gone down to only five safety alerts for the entire 2023-2024 school year.

Students are wondering if crime has indeed gone down or if they are being limited from knowing the amount of alerts happening in DeKalb.

Darren Mitchell, NIU’s chief of police, explained it’s a mix of both.

The NIU Safety Notifications are a required part of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires college and university campuses to report and catalog campus crime data and issue timely warnings and emergency notifications when a crime is committed.

Mitchell said that upon accepting the position of NIU’s chief of police in January 2022, the department was reconsidering the frequency of the safety notifications based on feedback from students and the community.

One of the decisions that significantly decreased the amount of alerts is the case-by-case deliberation on what crimes will be reported, primarily ‘shot’s fired.’

“A lot of times, there’ll be no evidence other than somebody saying that there was shots fired, they heard the sounds of gunfire, but there was no evidence,” Mitchell said. “No shell casings, no people in the area, no information that would lead us to absolutely say that this occurred.”

Mitchell said the department deliberated whether ‘shots fired’ calls were threatening enough to the community and fell under a Clery Act crime that they needed to be reported. Mitchell added that conversations with students who lived in frequently investigated areas weighed into the discussions, along with the SGA and the DeKalb community.

“We talked about making sure that we are putting out the information that is pertinent to safety, ongoing issues of safety,” Mitchell said. “If it’s not a verified ongoing threat to our community, then it is not something that we need to oversaturate people with.”

While ‘shots fired’ reports were the most significant crime reported, Mitchell attributed the drop in other regularly reported crimes including burglaries, arson and assaults to a crackdown in the Annie Glidden North neighborhoods where most calls originated.

Additionally, updates to DeKalb’s Crime Free Housing Program occurred in 2022 that brought about stricter penalties for landlords who neglected crime within their property. One residential housing complex known as “Ridgebrook” officially transferred its ownership in 2020 after years of neglected Crime-Free Initiative violations and over 800 calls made to the DeKalb Police Department which heavily included ‘shots fired’ calls. 

Mitchell emphasized crimes that did fall under the Clery Act would still be reported and the department would still investigate any calls, regardless if they were reported on the safety alerts.

“If it’s a violent crime that happens on our campus or on a property, as I mentioned before, that we believe is a potential threat, or ongoing threat to the community, then we are required to put that information out,” Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, the decrease in alerts has NIU students questioning if less alerts makes them feel safer on campus.

Taylor Jackson, a sophomore photography major, did not approve of the department’s decision to stop reporting every time gunshots were heard.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry, like, just so we can be aware even if it did or did not happen,” Jackson said. “If somebody said, like, ‘oh yeah, I think I heard shots,’ I feel like it would be good to just send it out so people can know.”

Graduate student Moria Nagy said the number of reports she saw when she first entered NIU in 2020 was still reassuring compared to her hometown in Cleveland, Ohio, or compared to Chicago. She prefers NIU continue to report all of its cases, especially with DeKalb’s notoriety of fireworks being compared to gunshots. 

“My partners and I have a joke, we ask ‘is it fireworks or is it gunshots?” Negy said. “Unless there is a report, like, you know, a call to the police, a report or an act of violence. As a result, you don’t know if it’s been gunshots, and so in my mind, it could be one or the other.”

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