STORY BY AUSTIN CANNON
Grant Haase had just returned to his apartment on the night of Sept. 15. He lives in the Drake Court complex on 25th Street, across from Drake Diner.
About 10 minutes after he got back, Haase, a senior musical theatre major at Drake University, heard what he thought was four gunshots.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh, fireworks. OK, whatever’ … Then I heard the two more,” Haase said.
Haase is the son of a firearms instructor, so he’s been around guns for a significant part of his life. He was nearly positive that the sounds he heard were not fireworks or a car backfiring.
“I know what a gun sounds like,” Haase said.
A short time later, a friend who also lives at Drake Court warned Haase not to go out because shots had been fired. That erased what little doubt Haase still had, and he started to spread the word, warning his friends that were still on campus.
The Des Moines Police Department arrived at the scene almost immediately, supported by Drake Public Safety. That marked the beginning of a busy week for both departments.
On Sept. 17, a man was shot outside of the Platinum Kutz barbershop two blocks east of Drake’s campus on University Avenue. Then, in the early morning of Sept. 20, another man was shot in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Forest Avenue, directly across the street from campus.
Neither shooting was deadly, and neither of the victims Drake students, but three incidents in one week caused concern from students, parents and staff about how safe Drake really is.
Back on Sept. 15, Haase acted under the impression there wouldn’t be a Bulldog Alert from Drake Public Safety, so he posted about the incident on Facebook. As it turns out, there wasn’t a Bulldog Alert, so some people relied on his status update as one of the few sources of information about the apparent gunshots.
Director of Drake Public Safety Scott Law had his reasons for not releasing an alert. DMPD canvassed the area but didn’t find any slugs, shell casings or bullet holes. There was no physical proof that someone fired a gun.
“We don’t want to put out information that we can’t verify as being true,” Law said. “By no means am I saying that students or the individuals didn’t hear what they heard, simply that we couldn’t verify it at the time that it had occurred.”
Haase was perturbed that there was not a warning of some sort after, so he had multiple people confirm they too heard the shots.
“Even if that facts are saying otherwise, we heard it,” Haase said. “We can say this happened.”
Even if the facts weren’t verified, Haase, who also said he has nothing but respect for DPS, would have still appreciated some sort of notification.
“Not even an alert, not even a warning,” Haase said. “Just a heads up.”
Law is of the opposite opinion. He worried that too many alerts would cause students to stop reading them and miss important safety warnings.
“That’s a huge concern to me,” Law said. “We want to make sure that our students know that we’re not wasting their time or we’re not sending them things that we don’t know to be factual.”
DPS sends out two types of notifications, Bulldogs Alerts and Timely Warnings. Bulldog Alerts, or Emergency Notifications, are sent out when there is an immediate danger on or near campus. In both the Sept. 17 and Sept. 20 shootings, Bulldog Alerts were sent out to tell students to stay away from both crime scenes.
Bri Varela, a junior elementary education major, has seen improvement in the frequency of the Bulldog Alerts.
“I didn’t feel like we got enough alerts last year,” she said. “This year I feel like they’re trying to handle it a lot better.”
Timely Warnings are sent out when there is no immediate danger to the campus community. So far this semester, three Timely Warnings have been sent out regarding a robbery on Aug. 31, a sexual assault on Sept. 8 and two car arsons near campus on Sept. 12. Simply put, Timely Warnings are deigned to notify the Drake community so it can take the necessary precautions.
How safe is Drake?
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Police and Campus Crime Statistics Act mandates that universities release Timely Warnings. Universities also have to submit “Clery reports” to the federal government that document the instances of crime that occurred in and around their campuses over the past year.
The 2013 reports came out yesterday. DPS reported 16 burglaries, two robberies, one aggravated assault, five motor vehicle thefts and three sex offenses on and near campus.
When compared to two similar sized universities in Midwest cities — Creighton and Butler universities — Drake’s statistics match up closely.
Burglary was the biggest problem for Drake, but not so for the other schools. Butler reported four and Creighton only cited two. Butler reported zero robberies while Drake had two and Creighton reported four. Numbers were relatively low for sex offenses, Butler and Creighton reported four compared to Drake’s three. Drake and Creighton each had one case of aggravated assault. Butler reported zero such cases.
Zero cases of murder or manslaughter were reported in 2013, 2012 and 2011 for each campus.
After speaking with Law, DMPD and University President David Maxwell, Drake Student Body President Joey Gale thought the recent shootings were an anomaly.
“From everything they’ve shared, these things aren’t related to the university,” Gale said. “Just kind of wrong place, wrong time and in the vicinity of campus.”
Law agreed, saying that students are not in any more danger when at Drake than they would be otherwise.
“There’s no place that you’re going to live where you’re going to be 100 percent safe from crime in this day and age, but you’re no more at risk being at college or an university than you would be anywhere else,” Law said.
Collaboration of DPS and DMPD
Maxwell spoke to DMPD Chief Judy Bradshaw after the Sept. 17 shooting.
“She said, and I quote, ‘You can tell your students that Drake is one of the safest campuses in the region. It’s probably one of the safest campuses in the country.’”
Maxwell repeated that to the Drake parents at his President’s Assembly on Sept. 20. Bradshaw also told him that crime in the Drake area has been on the decline in the last year. Additionally, Maxwell said how DMPD increased its presence around Drake after each of the shootings.
Law also mentioned DPS’s small staff of 21 officers has to often work closely with DMPD. Des Moines officers will often stop in at the DPS office to discuss trends and happenings in the community.
“We monitor the Des Moines Police frequency, so we know when they’re responding to things in our area,” Law said. “The officers will fill us in on what’s going on, let us know what’s happening.”
Since DPS has no investigative or enforcement duties off-campus, Drake has to rely on DMPD to handle the situation.
“I understand that there are some increasing concerns about what’s going on in the neighborhood, but I also have confidence in the Des Moines Police that these things are going to get resolved sooner rather than later,” Maxwell said.
Students help determine their own safety
As for the student body, Gale thinks its Student Senate’s job to keep students up-to-date on DPS operations.
“Student Senate wants to inform students what Drake Security’s (Public Safety’s) role is on campus,” Gale said. “What they are responsible for doing, what they are tasked to do, what their mission is and what they can and can’t do.”
In terms of the safety of the individual student, DPS is offering a new personal safety program that focuses on awareness, fear management and some self-defense.
Of course, safety is sometimes up to the individual. Haase likes to have alternate routes and destinations when out and would even consider requesting a DPS escort if the situation is serious enough.
“You should always be prepared for the worse to happen,” Haase said. “Be practical, but be ready.”
Varela avoids crime at night by simply avoiding the open space.
“I don’t like walking alone at night, so I’ll drive everywhere,” Varela said.
After bringing the Rave Guardian app to Drake, DPS is considering making its officers wear body cameras and perhaps a Drake-run alternative to Drake Direct.
“We’re trying to monitor what’s going on at the national level and trying to be on the front end of the bell curve rather than waiting to see what everyone else is doing and being on the back end of that curve,” Law said.
There is no way for students to insure their complete safety, but Law urged them to do all they can to put their own well being before everything else.
“Their own safety is the No. 1 priority,” Law said. “If someone wants your wallet and that’s all they want, you can replace money. Don’t get yourself hurt over something like that.”