This fall, numerous Hawkwatch alerts have been sent to the campus community from the Lehigh University Police Department.
The Brown and White spoke with Lehigh Police Chief Jason Schiffer about the number of incidents this semester, as well as how LUPD is responding and how students can remain safe.
Schiffer said it is hard to compare the number of incidents this year to last year, because last year, the campus population was lower due to the pandemic.
“Anytime we have any of these alerts, it’s concerning because obviously, we wouldn’t be putting out an alert if there wasn’t some type of threat to the campus community,” Schiffer said.
Schiffer said for the past two Hawkwatch alerts concerning cases of sexual assault, neither of the perpetrators have been located or identifed.
A Lehigh student was walking home off-campus on Sept. 13 when a male suspect physically restrained the victim and forced them to touch him, threatening to kill them if they said anything about the incident, said a Hawkwatch Alert sent out on Oct. 18. LUPD was made aware of the incident on Oct. 18.
Another case of sexual assault was reported on campus in the Sayre Park Village area on Oct. 23. An anonymous reporter was walking alone at night when a man grabbed them and groped them, the Hawkwatch alert said.
He said officers and detectives have been looking through camera footage from the area regarding the Sayre Village incident.
He said when it comes to off-campus incidents, such as the Sept. 13 incident, which occurred about half a mile from campus in the area of Brighton Street and Route 378, LUPD does not have cameras set up.
The city of Bethlehem is the lead investigator when situations occur off-campus, although LUPD cooperates and helps, Schiffer said.
LUPD REPORTING PROCESS
There are three types of notifications sent through the Hawkwatch app, including Timely Warnings, Emergency Notifications and Safety Bulletins.
Schiffer said deciding when to put out Timely Warnings is a complex process, and the law requires every instance to be looked at individually.
“There’s a very complex analysis that needs to take place to determine whether a warning is either number one required by law, or that we would feel that even if it wouldn’t be required by law, it would be something that we would still want to communicate,” Schiffer said.
Timely Warnings are issued when certain crimes are reported occuring on Lehigh property and within Clery Act geography that are considered a serious or continuing threat to the campus community, LUPD’s website said. The alerts can aid in crime prevention as well as warn community members, the website said.
Some off-campus crimes are not required to be reported by the Clery Act because they fall outside of Lehigh’s Clery Act geography, although sometimes LUPD still decides to report these situations as a Safety Bulletin, Schiffer said.
Safety Bulletins are issued to inform the community of incidents that do not meet the reporting criteria of a Clery Timely Warning or an Emergency Notification, LUPD’s website said.
“To me, (off-campus crime) falls under a safety concern for our population, and it’s something that we want to communicate,” he said.
He said reporting these situations could be helpful to find other suspects with similar descriptions or encourage others to report situations.
Schiffer said the department has been using a decision matrix from The Clery Center to aid the decision-making process for sending out messages, as every situation is complex and individualized.
The form includes how the report came to the department, how it was reported, what Clery classification it falls under, the type of crime, where it occurred and whether it’s on Clery reported geography.
The form also includes aggravating and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors include the suspect is not in custody, the suspect has prior arrests or a history of violent behavior, there are multiple victims, there is a pattern of behavior and more.
Mitigating factors include the situation occurred more than 30 days prior to the report, if the suspect is known to the victim and more.
Schiffer said the department wants to communicate with the Lehigh community and be as transparent as possible.
In terms of the ongoing investigation into Lehigh by the Department of Education for Clery violation, Schiffer said it has given the department a better understanding of what is required and ways to improve.
Emergency Notifications are used for situations with “a confirmed immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees.” These situations include active shooters, bombs, fires and natural disasters.
“The purpose of an Emergency Notification is to provide life-saving information and instructions during an active emergency situation,” LUPD’s website said.
HOW STUDENTS CAN STAY SAFE
Schiffer said when cases of sexual assault are reported, resources such as the Title IX Office are made available to the reporting person and resources are presented to them right away.
He said sometimes an advocate is called to talk or LUPD may be called to the hospital.
In terms of students saying safe, Schiffer said it’s always best to travel with more than one person if possible and remain aware of your surroundings
Schiffer said there has been an increase in the number of walking requests this semester.
“On one hand, it’s great that people are taking advantage of the service that’s available,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s concerning because it’s obvious that there are people that feel unsafe walking to where they want to go. So, that’s concerning to me.”
Students can request a walking escort by calling LUPD at 610-758-4200 anytime through dusk and dawn.