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U of M changes criteria for when it identifies race of suspects in crime alerts

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Updated: 1:54 p.m. | Posted: 9:49 a.m.

The University of Minnesota plans to reduce the use of suspect descriptions, including race, in crime alerts sent to the campus community. 

President Eric Kaler described the new approach in an email sent to students, staff and faculty on Wednesday. Kaler said suspect descriptions will still be included when they help identify a potentially dangerous suspect, but that when the description is too general, the university will "note that only a limited description of the suspect(s) is available." 

Pam Wheelock, vice president of University Services, said in a separate letter to the campus community that she and the University of Minnesota police chief will decide whether to describe suspects on a case-by-case basis. 

The decision came after a dialogue about the issue on campus, which included a  student-led occupation of Kaler's office earlier this month. 

"We have heard from many in our community that the use of race in suspect descriptions in our Crime Alerts may unintentionally reinforce racist stereotypes of Black men, and other people of color, as criminals and threats," Kaler wrote. "That in turn can create an oppressive climate for some members of our community, a climate of suspicion and hostility."

Kaler said university officials have been working with police to review practices for crime alerts on other campuses around the country. 

"We are committed to creating a welcoming and diverse campus. To do so, we must ensure our campus is safe for all of our students, faculty, and staff while balancing interests that are sometimes competing," Kaler wrote in the letter. "Our safety practices need to reflect an ongoing awareness of that balance."

Tori Hong, who helped organize the sit-in Feb. 9, called the decision a good first step.

"We do think that it's not enough, and that the university it still being somewhat superficial about it," she said. "So we're going to keep pushing the administration to think harder and keep engaging in these conversations."

The university is legally obligated to send out crime alerts to campus in some situations, including homicides, sexual assaults, robbery and burglary.   Thirty percent of the crime alerts that have been sent out to the campus community since 2012 used suspect descriptions that wouldn't be used today, university officials said.

MPR News reporter Alex Friedrich contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify how much information on suspects the U of M will publish in crime alerts.