Trojans Alerts must err on side of caution

A Trojans Alert sent out Monday night reporting a shooting south of campus turned out to be a false alarm — but not necessarily a worthless one.

Though students have accused the Dept. of Public Safety of sacrificing accuracy for speed when it comes to its emergency notification system, Monday night’s prompt and prudent response was ultimately a good decision. It is better to be safe than sorry in potential violent crime situations.

On Monday evening, two Trojans Alert messages were sent out. One alerted students, faculty and staff to a shooting in the area of Exposition Boulevard and Menlo Avenue. The second said that earlier reports had been unfounded and that the area was safe.

Now, what happened is clear. A DPS officer on routine patrol on the evening of the incident heard what sounded like a gunshot. Immediately afterward, a man in the area claimed to have been shot at by a passing vehicle. The man identified the vehicle as a white Toyota truck with a camper shell, alleging that three Hispanic males were in the car.

Within minutes, it was determined that the presumed “gunshot” was actually the sound of a car backfiring.

DPS, however, acted appropriately by immediately alerting students of the incident. As the report indicates, DPS had legitimate reason to believe that a shooting had occurred and acted in the interest of keeping students as informed and safe as possible in a state of potential emergency.

In the aftermath of the Halloween shooting, DPS was harshly criticized for responding too slowly to the incident, sending emails and text messages to students, faculty and staff at 12:02 a.m. for a crime that occurred around 11:45 p.m. In this week’s case, the shooting claims were cleared within eight minutes of the original alert. Therefore, despite the initial inaccuracy, students still received a complete and accurate report of the incident in a faster time than during the incident on Halloween.

This time around, the short time span to send out the first and second messages proves DPS has made good on its promise to alert students promptly. Officials did right by students, faculty and staff by acting upon what was known at the time. For those complaining about the false alarm, what if it had been a real shooting? What if the Trojans Alert had been sent out later and students lives had been endangered? To say the least, getting startled by false alarms is much less of an inconvenience than being potentially uninformed amid a dangerous scenario.

But some might argue that such tendency for false alarms is exactly the problem. If inaccurate but speedy messages become the norm, the Trojans Alert system might very well be delegitimized.

To maintain credibility, DPS should strike a balance between accuracy and speed by characterizing the situation as accurately as possible. Conclusive statements, such as the subject line of the email sent out, “Shooting Has Occurred,” should be avoided until a thorough investigation has been conducted. In this case, the shooting should have been characterized as alleged.

Nevertheless, DPS acted well under pressure. Its choice to send out the Trojans Alert immediately demonstrates that students’ safety really is a top priority, and if this means false alarms, so be it. To choose to err on the side of caution is essential to maintaining the university community’s security and safety.


Valerie Yu is a freshman majoring in English.