In the wake of the arrest of a Montana State University student charged with attempted sexual assault and assault with a deadly weapon, many are raising concerns about MSU’s policy for admitting violent and sexual offenders to the university.
From e-mail alerts to text messages and posters around campus, there has been sharp reaction to the arrest of Kevin Briggs, his escape from the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center and subsequent recapture by federal authorities in Portland, Ore.
According to MSU’s website, additional screening is required for student applicants who have ever been registered as a sexual or violent offender. The campus Safety and Welfare Committee considers a number of factors including the severity of the crimes committed, behavior since conviction and recommendations of criminal justice officials, according to the website.
However, Briggs’ arrest has led many to question their safety and security at MSU. Students who get multiple text messages and e-mails about campus-related crime reports say they feel threatened because they are aware of a danger.
MSU has two types of alerts. The first is a “timely warning.” This is an informational email that outlines a possible crime threat. The second is an emergency notification – or a text that everyone who has signed up for MSU Alert receives. This is sent out when “we feel the campus is at risk,” said Tara Moore, the coordinator of the system, and is not used often.
The alert about Brigg’s escape was an emergency notification followed by the lockdown of all campus residence halls and an intense manhunt. The later assault allegations and any other crime or offensive allegations this school year have been timely warnings that are sent to students as a precaution.
Records found on the University Police Department website do not show a significant increase in sexual offenses in the last three school years. There were three in 2010, eight in 2011 and two in 2012. In 2013 there was a spike in sexual offenses with a total of 13 reported on campus, which includes fraternities and sororities.
However, the MSU enrollment is increasing and only four of the allegations reported in 2013 were actually tried in court. The online daily police log shows the two reports that took place in September 2013 off campus and were party related. Both were referred to the Gallatin County Attorney’s office for prosecution.
The information is available to the public online at Montana.edu/police. Campus police say the openness and the willingness of the school and its associates to talk freely and share these records shows their commitment to help students feel safe. They say the priority is to ensure campus awareness of the potential dangers around them.
Dean of Students Matt Caires, said, “MSU is a safe campus; yes, we have had sexual assault on campus and 13 is too many, but that is four tried cases in a total of 15,294 students.” Caires also said that the reason students are alerted so intensely about any suspicious activity is related to mass shooting incidents across the country.
At Virginia Tech in 2007, when officials heard reports of shots being fired in a residence hall and two students wounded, they investigated the location before warning their students. In the time it took them to realize the report was accurate, there were 31 more shooting deaths.