University police should send Illini-Alert for extreme threats

Last Monday, police found an “unattended suitcase”: near the Harding Band Building, prompting an evacuation of the area. The University bomb squad was called to the scene, and the surrounding area was blocked off. But unless you were among the group of people being evacuated, you probably didn’t hear much about this until now.

That is likely because the University did not issue an Illini-Alert message. And while the suitcase was removed within a couple of hours without any damage or harm, the police department went to extensive measures to do it. To that extent, the Champaign police surely didn’t handle this situation like some typical ho-hum protocol, such as investigating a car accident or responding to a noise complaint. No, this was more serious, yet there was still no alert to the campus community.

As is apparent from our past history of excessively using crime alerts, bombarding the University community is not the best approach to safety outreach. The high volume of alerts at that time did not make the majority of people feel well-informed and confident; rather, it incited somewhat of a panic among students — and parents especially. Thus, there has to be some kind of standard, some kind of line that we draw for the appropriate amount of information dispersal.

It seems University police officials have yet to learn to strike that balance. Students trust police and other public safety figures to use their own discretion and determine what will unnecessarily bring about fear.

But when a suspicious, unattended suitcase spurs an investigation by police and an evacuation of the area, that is something of which everyone on campus, all of whom may be in danger’s way, should be aware.

And the likelihood of an actual bomb threat appearing on campus is not so far off.

Bomb threats at college campuses have pervaded top headlines in the past few weeks. Targeted schools included Louisiana State University, the University of Texas at Austin, North Dakota State University, Hiram College in Ohio and, most recently, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

We don’t expect to be notified every time police find reason to be concerned. We don’t expect to hear about every fire alarm that goes off or every attempted burglary.

But if police are going to go to extremes such as evacuating and then quarantining a University building and taping off an entire campus block, that seems to be within our right to know, especially given the recent history of threats on college campuses.