On Saturday, May 14, at 7:15 p.m., shots were fired in the Lagunita parking lot after a student event. The community was alerted in less than an hour, and while nobody was injured, the incident was shocking to many. We talked to Chief of Police Laura Wilson, '91, about the shooting and crime on campus.
Last Saturday, shots were fired. Can you tell us where things stand with that? Do you suspect people from off campus?
We've been doing a lot of follow-up on the case. We did recover a firearm in the grove area where two of the suspects were seen fleeing the car that was involved in the pursuit. And because of tips from the community we actually had someone provide us with a picture of the license plate of one of the cars—of the car we didn't have in custody. So [I was] really please with the speed with which the officers responded and set up a perimeter, which allowed us to detain two individuals who were involved. The community provided tips, so we're actively following up on all those leads. So based on that I can affirmatively say it was people from off campus who were here probably attending an event that was happening in the area at that point in time.
This kind of thing doesn't happen often around here.
No, it does not, thankfully!
You know, we're a small police department, a very active campus. Because we don't have a lot of serious body crimes, I think the security consciousness of the campus as a whole tends to be lower than if we were located in an urban area where there is a lot of crime. People feel safe here so they take fewer precautions. So our strategy is really to try to create ambassadors for the community. My motto is, "Safety is a community effort." We all have to take some responsibility for safety and security. That's why we do a lot of community outreach, a lot of presentations. . . . If we can raise that awareness and get more people to call in, we'll solve more crime.
How many officers are there?
Total we have 33 top to bottom, chief to deputy. On the day of the shooting, fortunately that was during our swing shift, so we had five officers on duty. Had it been day shift, we would have had two. We did get a lot of support from neighboring agencies. Menlo Park responded very quickly; Palo Alto—we share a radio frequency with Palo Alto—[we have a] really good working relationship with the agencies in the area. Mountain View responded. And had we asked for more I'm sure we would have gotten more. I think it was a Mountain View canine that came up and did a search for the people.
There was a fatal shooting at San Jose State University a few days before. Does that raise alert?
I don't think for the police department in general because that's the kind of stuff we're always concerned about and dealing with, whether we're actually dealing with it on our campus [or hearing about other jurisdictions dealing with it]. I think it probably created some questions in the mind of perhaps parents and administrators about safety in general. We're not immune. It could happen here. Thankfully, again, we're just extraordinarily fortunate. And I think that's in part because—I'd like to take a little credit—our guys are out there actively trying to stop crime, but again we really depend on the community to let us know about what they see that is suspicious behavior.
You always used to hear, "The only crime that happens here is bike theft." Now we get these email alerts when something happens. Are there more serious crimes happening or is the community just being better alerted to them?
I think the predominant reason is that the community is being alerted to them. Because of technology, there are ways to reach the community. There also are a couple of federal laws under the Higher Education Act. [Since 1990 the Clery Act has required] timely warnings. In the wake of Virginia Tech [Editor's note: In 2007, a shooter killed more than 30 people on the campus of Virginia Tech. It is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history], more attention was given to "what is the definition of "timely." I was alerted, in this case, while the pursuit was going on, so a pretty hot call, and it still was 40 minutes before the final push got out because, what people may not appreciate is, you have to log in to a computer system, you have to craft the message, you have to find out what's going on! And then you have to push the message out.
A timely warning could happen within 24 hours. And the intent is that people can make good decisions about their own safety. Both in the immediate and the long term. The downside, of course, is that if you are always sending them out, the boy-who-cried-wolf-syndrome can happen. With timely warnings, you are not limited, but you are required [to report nine crimes, including] sex assault, arson, homicide, etc. So it's interesting: For example, we had an indecent exposure case [and] we had to make a decision—should we notify the community or not? My inclination is that, yes, we should, so that the community is notified, but there's that balance again. And indecent exposure is not a required-notification crime. And I will say a lot of people are expressing sort of like, "We don't understand why sometimes some crimes get reported and others don't." I think we're all just trying to do the best we can to educate the community and keep them informed.
Are these more serious crimes usually committed by people from off-campus?
You raise an interesting point from a societal perspective. We see that when someone from "off campus" commits a crime, the community reaction is different than when someone "on campus"— a member of the "community"—commits a crime. For example, we have a number of sexual assaults or sex misconduct cases. That's generally student-to-student. And there's just a different feeling. The angst is not there, the scariness is not there because it's someone we know. Versus the sexual assault that happened over in Escondido Village, which was a stranger assault, which is very rare on this campus: People felt unsafe. So it's interesting, but we have probably 100 acquaintance assaults for every stranger assault that is reported. So I think it's a little bit of a societal issue on how we look at crime and whether you're part of a community or not. But I'd say the vast majority—excluding sexual assault—of violent crimes, tend to be, in my opinion, associated with people coming from off campus to attend student parties. So what we're seeing is a whole lot of people on this campus on the weekends who have no direct affiliation with Stanford, don't even seem to have been invited by a Stanford student, and they're coming to see what parties they can enjoy at Stanford.
Most people know we are a low-crime university. How does our crime compare to other schools?
Despite the fact that we have to be compliant with Clery and report all these statistics, I find statistics to be a little potentially misleading. For example, we know underage drinking is happening on this campus, and if I brought 100 officers here, I could make 300 arrests a night. But if you look at our arrest statistics, they're pretty low. So I don't put a whole lot of stock in statistics to be honest, because there're just so many variables that can contribute.
This year when we do our Clery reporting [Editor's note: In October the 2010 crime statistics will be revealed.], the community will see a dramatic rise in the number of sexual assaults reported. And so what people tend to think is, "there's been an increase in the number of sexual assaults." I don't think that we have any type of increase in that type of crime happening. It is an increase in the number of people who are coming forward to report. Why is that happening? No one really knows. You could say it's education, you could say there's been a change to the judicial affairs process on how sexual misconduct cases are reviewed, that may be causing an increase. But we also saw an increase in the number of people reporting to the police, which is not part of the judicial affairs system, so what explains that? At this point in time, I'm not sure.
What do you think students need to be aware of, and what do you want them to do as part of this community safety effort?
We keep singing the same mantra, which is take adequate precautions with your property. People feel safe here so they'll run to the restroom and leave their dorm room unlocked. Leave their laptop, their iPod sitting out when they're at the library and they come back and they're stolen. And again, it's not a horrendous number that's happening, but when it's yours and your term paper is on there, there's an impact. So take adequate precautions, don't hesitate to report [suspicious activity]. Pay attention, and then report it. What's most helpful to the police in an incident is descriptions of people, direction of travel, license plate. In today's world, people are whipping out those smartphones and taking pictures and video—that actually really helps us.
As far as this incident goes, are there people still at large?
There are. We have four names.
But it seems like a random incident?
Exactly. I would also say, when people get an AlertSU and if it says—so in this example, shots fired in the Lagunita parking lot—don't go [there]! We need people to not go into the area. One of the things I was impressed about during the whole incident is that I got a number of calls from colleagues I work with most often wanting to know what could they do to support the students, and students were calling them. The machine was working. We are trying to deal the crisis. So there are other people who are trying to provide reassurance. Like the Housing Access Response Team, they went through and made sure that doors were locked and not propped open. So, when we send those out, as long as people are thinking, "What's my role in this, what do I need to be doing."
Are there crimes that have gone down in recent years?
We have what I would say are flurries of crime . . . where someone will come in, do a lot of auto burglaries, we'll eventually catch them or they get caught somewhere else . . . and then the crime goes down.
So overall, surprisingly, crime has remained relatively constant. I just read this article and I tend to agree with it that we get concerned about those things that are out of the norm, and yet there are a lot of things happening at the norm that we hopefully are paying attention to: risky alcohol behavior, sexual assault, bicycle [safety and theft]; Those are the things that are happening each and every day, and those are the things that I'd like to see us actually try to make an impact on.
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Photo: L.A. Cicero/Stanford News Service
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Chief WIlson says that "Total we have 33 top to bottom, chief to deputy. On the day of the shooting, fortunately that was during our swing shift, so we had five officers on duty. Had it been day shift, we would have had two. "
Stanford is paying for 33 officers (she mentions "chief to deputy", not support personnel, and a day shift has 2 officers on duty, a swing shift 5? If there are 3 shifts a day (21 shifts a week) and officers work 5 shifts a week, after allowing for vacation there should be an average of 7 officers on duty each shift, some shifts more, some less. Is the Stanford community really getting the protection it pays for?
Posted by Mr. Bernard Anson Kroll on Jun 13, 2011 12:12 PM