Auraria students calling for major changes to campus PD after ‘run, hide or fight’ alert

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DENVER (KDVR) — Student leaders at Denver’s Auraria campus are calling for sweeping changes to the campus police department following a lockdown earlier this week

On Tuesday, Auraria Campus Police Department initiated a lockdown procedure due to a stabbing at a nearby light rail station. A lockdown automatically triggers a campus-wide messaging system to sent an alert to all students and staff at Community College of Denver, CU Denver and Metropolitan State University. 

“This is a message that was crafted several years ago that we thought would cover as many possible emergency situations as we could think of if we had to lock the doors,” ACPD Chief Michael Phibbs told FOX31 on Tuesday. 

However, many students told FOX31 they felt the wording of the message made them think it was an active shooter situation and caused unnecessary panic. Students also complained about the time it took to receive follow up information about the incident from ACPD. 

“DPD had already sent their little tweets or whatever and kind of informed and updated the public and ACPD did not,” Community College of Denver Student Government Association Vice President Queen Pompee said during a meeting Friday morning. 

“I just really feel like 45 minutes is a long time to not tell the Auraria campus what’s going on,” she added. 

On Tuesday, Chief Phibbs said, “It took us a while to sort out what was going on and for me to be convinced that the campus had no further danger.”

ACPD’s response to Tuesday’s incident became the principal topic of discussion at CCD’S SGA meeting Friday morning. 

“I really feel like this was a lesson learned. We are aware of the problem. How can we be able to find a solution?” Pompee said. 

Their solution will be to pass a resolution calling for changes to the campus emergency notification system. The specifics will be decided at CCD SGA’s next meet. The language will then be added onto a resolution the campus-wide Student Advisory Committee to the Auraria Board passed last month to address what they call longstanding communication and transparency concerns with ACPD. 

“It is clear to us that there is one critical component that is lacking between students and the Auraria Campus Police Department: Trust,” the resolution says, in part. 

It goes on to call for the adoption of a body-worn camera program, to de-weaponize patrol officers that are not actively responding to calls on campus, a published line-item ACPD budget, an anonymous online feedback and complaint form, and increased interaction with the campus community through town halls, Q&A sessions and other events. 

This comes after the campus formed the ACPD Community Advisory Board in September 2020, made up of students, faculty and/or community members from each institution. 

“They don’t have any public oversight at all and for a police department that’s extremely concerning,” CCD Student Representative David Nausbaum said. 

In addition to the work student leaders are doing to increase accountability for ACPD, CCD Vice President for Enrollment Administration and Student Success Gillian McKnight-Tutein said the executive team and leadership council at CCD is working to address concerns about the emergency alert system. 

“All three presidents on campus … are working on the communication, not just how and when they come out but what they say,” McKnight-Tutein said. “Those conversations will have an action plan behind them.”

The Auraria Executives Council which is made up of the Auraria Higher Education Center CEO and three campus presidents/chancellors replied to FOX31 with this statement:

As many of you are aware, a stabbing took place adjacent to the west side of our campus yesterday. After an altercation, a suspect stabbed another person on an RTD light rail train at the Empower Field at Mile High Station. They both left the train and it was unclear where the suspect would go next. The Auraria Campus Police Department officers apprehended the suspect and prevented physical harm to our students, faculty, and staff. 

When the events were initially unfolding, ACPD received witness reports of multiple suspects and multiple victims (reports that later turned out to be inaccurate). Police sent out a campus text alert at 4:12 p.m., noting that the campus was on lockdown and instructing people to “run, hide, or fight if appropriate.” Believing there was the possibility of a larger-scale active harmer situation, ACPD sent that alert in compliance with the federal Clery Act that requires such notifications when police believe there’s an immediate threat to the health and safety of the campus community. The text was a pre-scripted emergency notification, which is done to get the message out more quickly.  

We acknowledge that the content and timing of this initial text alert were alarming for many. We further recognize that many of our community members requested timely information during yesterday’s incident, as well as additional information for any potential future campus emergencies. We will work to address your concerns. We commit to doing better, and we will.

We are committed to your safety and to communicating with you as transparently and purposefully as we can, particularly in emergency situations. The three campus academic institutions and the Auraria Higher Education Center will start with an “after-action review” of all aspects of this incident. We expect we will have outcomes that may influence policy or procedural changes. We further commit to transparently reporting these findings—especially ones where we fell short—to you in the coming weeks. Your safety is our top priority and we owe it to you to continuously improve our processes. 

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