Did the city’s second-largest university fail to alert its students about two days’ worth of violent crimes in a timely fashion?
That’s the question students and community members are asking as Drexel University scrambles in the wake of reports of five assaults — one involving a break-in — and a stabbing from early Tuesday through late Wednesday. A man was arrested in connection with four of the assaults, which involved groping of female students, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. But a separate person who allegedly broke into an apartment and sexually assaulted a student was not.
Drexel students were not notified through the school’s alert system about the break-in incident that occurred early Wednesday morning, or about a stabbing that happened on campus around the same time. The confusion and string of assaults comes as students are wrapping up their semester, with final exams ending today.
Police say at 4 a.m. Wednesday, a man broke into a student’s off-campus apartment at 34th and Spring Garden, wielded a meat cleaver and sexually assaulted her. The woman told police the early-morning incident meant it was too dark to provide a description of the suspect.
The same morning, a Drexel student was stabbed just outside a dorm building at 33rd and Race Streets after being involved in a texting love triangle. According to the Daily News, a 20-year-old victim was in a fight with two men after one man had sent texts to another man’s girlfriend. But police couldn’t say which member of the trio was the offending texter.
After NBC10 ran a story that noted the university’s lack of alert to students and dozens of messages were spread across Facebook and Twitter questioning the lack of University alerts about the matter, Drexel finally sent an alert to students at 11:51 a.m. Thursday — this time, it was about two other indecent assaults in the same area, but only noted one.
No details about the time of the incident were provided in the alert.
Then, another message was posted to Drexel’s alert system just after 3 p.m. from Domenic Ceccanecchio, Vice President of the University’s Department of Public Safety. Ceccanecchio said the alert was issued after two reports of indecent assault a block apart — at 34th and Powelton and 35th and Powelton — during which a perpetrator allegedly groped two female Drexel students. The suspect is described as an intoxicated 6-foot tall, black male wearing a gray and blue jacket and gray hat. No time was given, and no arrest has been made. Students received yet another email regarding the stabbing — as Ceccanecchio wrote, “the perpetrator was immediately apprehended and there was no ongoing threat to the community, a DrexelALERT was not sent, as is standard protocol.”
University spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris said Drexel Police learned about the break-in and sexual assault at 34th and Spring Garden from early Wednesday morning hours after it had already occurred and did not alert students. Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Tanya Little couldn’t confirm to Billy Penn how long it took for police to notify Drexel about the incident.
Schools are required through the Clery Act to provide timely warnings to students when crimes that pose a continuing threat occur on or near a campus location. Colleges must provide a timely notice to the university community when it determines a crime “presents a serious or continuing threat to students and employees.” The crime must have been reported to either campus or local police — in the case of the break-in and sexual assault, Philadelphia Police handled the call — and it must have occurred either on campus, on accessible public property or at a non-campus location, such as a Greek house or remote classroom.
However, some schools go beyond these requirements and alert students when violent crimes happen in the vicinity. For example, in November alone, Temple University blasted out alerts after five incidents — four of which were off-campus.
Senior Jackie Farmer, 22, a member of Drexel Students Advocating Feminism and Equality, said she lives three blocks away from where the alleged break-in and sexual assault occurred, and said she’d invited a female friend over late the next night.
“Drexel needs to honor the fact that students rely on the alert system,” she said. “While we still have to go about our daily lives after we hear about these crimes, I wouldn’t have been trying to convince my female friend to walk to my place around midnight if I would have known.”
Gianakaris declined to answer questions via phone about the incidents, emailed a statement that said the university is working with Philadelphia Police and didn’t return calls seeking further information.
Here’s what students and community members are saying:
Drexel sent out an alert for an “assault” off campus but nothing about the stabbing last night ON campus? smh
— Erin McGoff (@erinmcgoff) December 11, 2014
Really dissappointed and disgusted that no Drexel alert was issued after the break in and rape of a Drexel student @DrexelUniv
— alix (@lesschinski) December 11, 2014
I’m completely appalled NO alert was sent out to warn students of a rape and break-in within Drexel Public Safety parameters!@DrexelUniv — Victoria Sibalich (@VSibalich) December 11, 2014
Drexel: alerts me when there are suspicious-looking men on bicycles Drexel: does NOT alert me when a student is stabbed in front of my dorm — Snidley Nisker (@Lindsey_Kinser) December 10, 2014
Drexel student stabbed in fight this morning near all the res halls and no alert? glad to know we’re informed about what happens on campus.
— Justin San Juan (@StJausofSanJohn) December 10, 2014
Drexel sends out safety alert when there’s a drunk toga man on the loose. Legitimate stabbing takes place on campus and we get nothing….
— Bianca (@_yancs) December 10, 2014
Students shouldn’t have to infer, guess, and google in order to make sense of a very serious alert. Alert’s are great. We now need more info
— Drexel Safe (@DrexelSAFE) December 11, 2014