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Some University of Minnesota students say F-you to SAFE-U alert

University of Minnesota students were notified about an alleged assault -- at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, or several hours after it reportedly happened.

University of Minnesota students were notified about an alleged assault -- at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, or several hours after it reportedly happened. Bruce Bisping Star Tribune

Around half-past 8 p.m. on Friday, there was reportedly a sexual assault inside the 19th Avenue Parking Ramp near the Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis.

The Star Tribune reports "video of the incident was caught on camera," and the search for the suspect continues.

University of Minnesota students learned of the incident through SAFE-U, the school’s alert system for emergency situations. That includes everything from sexual assault to class-canceling blizzards. When something dangerous happens on campus, students get a notification on their phones (via text, call, or email) and are advised to be careful.

The SAFE-U report of Friday's assault read like this:

U of M Twin Cities: Sexual assault 8:23pm on 03/06/2020 inside the 19th Avenue Parking Ramp, located at 300 19 Ave S Suspect is male, tall with skinny build, short hair, wearing a ball cap, black jacket with gray hoodie underneath, dark sweatpants with white tennis shoes. Use caution.

But students using SAFE-U didn’t receive the notification Friday evening. They got it bright and early Saturday morning, around 4:15 a.m. And based on their screeds to Reddit, they weren't happy.

“I’m serious when I say people need to be fired who work for [SAFE-U],” one Redditor said.

SAFE-U's been criticized for providing too little information too late, and for unhelpful “fearmongering” that makes the campus seem more dangerous than it actually is.

“Unless there’s an atomic bomb on campus set to go off imminently, I really don’t want a 4:30 a.m. phone call eight hours after a crime,” one commenter said.

It’s far from the first time SAFE-U’s been lit up online. A quick spin around the university’s forums will show you it’s been meme fodder for ages, and not in a good way.

Safe-U after waiting 2 hours to tell everyone what color sweatpants the criminal was wearing from r/uofmn

Turns out, it wasn’t the university’s call to blast everyone's phone in the wee hours of the morning. It was required by federal law.

The Clery Act, signed into law in 1990, requires schools to be transparent with students about crime on campus, and warn of any “serious, ongoing threat to the campus community,” university spokesperson Lacey Nygard tells City Pages. The law is named for Jeanne Clery, who was 19 years old in 1986 when she was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm.

SAFE-U’s notifications are the University of Minnesota’s method of choice to stay in compliance. Before the assault reported on Friday, recent messages warned about an “attempted abduction” on March 1 and an “attempted kidnapping” on February 18.

In November, December, and January, SAFE-U was triggered 14 times, all but two of them for reports of robbery or attempted robbery. The outliers were a criminal sexual assault -- a victim said they were assaulted by two men, who were then "scared off" by bystanders -- and a late November alert saying classes and other activities were canceled due to severe weather.

Nygard says the University of Minnesota Police Department only learned about Friday’s reported assault the following morning, and the Clery act required the school to put that information in circulation right away. Hence the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.

Well-meaning or not, SAFE-U won't do much good if students are trying to shut it up entirely. Plenty have been posting instructions on how to opt out of these notifications entirely.

“You can literally just block the phone number,” one Redditor pointed out. “That’s what I did.”