Update: Armed robberies raise questions about NU alert system

Susan Du, City Editor

After three Northwestern students were robbed at gunpoint Sunday, some members of the NU community were informed through the University-wide email alert system, but others were left out of the loop.

The incident was one of three armed robberies near campus last weekend, according to an Evanston Police Department news release.

Students living and working in Evanston who are not taking summer classes would not have been notified of Sunday’s incident despite its proximity to them.

Only faculty, staff and students enrolled in NU classes receive crime notifications, Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president for student engagement, explained in an email to The Daily on Wednesday.

University Police issued an email alert Sunday after students were robbed in the 2000 block of Pratt Court. However, Howard said NU students living in the Evanston area but not on the University’s weekly enrollment list would not have received the digital heads-up.

“I think that you could imagine the student reaction if you received ‘urgent’ notifications about power failures, chemical spills, robberies… and you were thousands of miles away working at an internship, out of the country on study abroad or simply on vacation with your family,” Howard said. “The majority of students who are not here studying in Evanston during the summer would not want to receive messages that don’t have immediate bearing on them.”

A total of four armed robberies occurred in Evanston within a three-day span surrounding last weekend. In comparison, 76 robberies were reported in 2011, for an average of less than two per week, according to EPD’sannual report.

Despite the apparent spike, EPD Cmdr. Diane Davis said the weekend rash of armed robberies was not an anomaly.

“This was a busy week for the Evanston Police Department,” Davis said. “We are always, always concerned about any amount of crime that happens. We’re always actively, tenaciously investigating them.”

The first incident, which occurred early Saturday, involved a 16-year-old pedestrian who was robbed of $20, credit cards and his cell phone at the intersection of Foster Street and Orrington Avenue,according to the EPDnews release. While one unknown man robbed the teen, another stood and watched.

The three NU students were robbed in the 2000 block of Pratt Court early Sunday. As the students walked in the middle of the street, two men approached them, according to the news release. One threatened the women with a silver handgun and took their purses.

On Sunday night, a 31-year-old man attempted to sell his iPad to a stranger he had contacted on Craigslist and agreed to meet in the 800 block of Noyes Street. When the prospective buyer bolted without paying, the iPad owner chased after him, sustaining knife injuries in the scuffle to get it back. He was also bitten on the arm before regaining possession of his iPad. Police eventually apprehended a man whom the 31-year-old later identified as the offender.

On Monday evening, another 31-year-old man reported that after he exited the El station on South Boulevard, an unknown man threatened him with a handgun and demanded his phone. In the ensuing struggle, the 31-year-old was struck with the gun and robbed.

Weinberg junior Alexander Waldman, who worked at Norris University Center this summer, received a notification about the Pratt Court robbery. He said he was surprised to hear that only NU faculty, staff and students enrolled in summer classes were alerted.

“It definitely seems like everyone should be included, even people who aren’t here over the summer, if they’re going to be returning,” Waldman said. “The amount of crime wouldn’t all of a sudden go away when school picks back up again.”

One purpose of crime notifications is for police to engage the NU community in an effort to locate offenders soon after crimes are committed, Howard said. Another is to inform students so they can take necessary precautions, he added.

McCormick senior Stephen Zeng was not informed of the robbery by the University. He said a better system would be to issue alerts to students based on their current places of residence.

“If people update their information and give an accurate description of where they are located, then it’s perfectly fair to send alerts to only people who are located in Evanston, because if they aren’t there, it really doesn’t matter too much to them,” Zeng said.

In addition to UP crime alerts, students receive notifications from NU Emergency Management about maintenance issues such as gas leaks and power outages. Although crime alerts are issued based on enrollment, all students receive NU Emergency Management emails.

UPDATE, 1 p.m. Friday:

Evanston Police on Thursday arrested 23-year-old Timothy Blue and charged him with three counts of armed robbery in connection with Sunday’s armed robbery involving three NU students.

The EPD announced Friday that Blue turned himself in after police released surveillance video images from a 7-Eleven in Skokie, where he and another man used the stolen credit cards. Police are still looking for the second man who also allegedly participated in the robbery.

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