RHIANNON BERG; News Co-Editor; email@example.com
Students were walking around Red Square for Relay for Life, partying at nearby off-campus houses and sleeping in residence halls the night of Friday, April 21. They may have heard sirens and seen lights, but no alarms or warnings were sent to the Pacific Lutheran University community after a car chase ended with an arrest near the Mortvedt library parking lot and the Hauge Administration building.
According to documents from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD), a male minor led officers on a felony vehicle and foot pursuit from Puyallup to PLU’s campus in Parkland a few minutes after midnight the night of April 21.
After leading deputies on a chase that exceeded 60 miles per hour in residential areas, the vehicle stopped in the Health Center parking lot and the subject ran from the car, through the library parking lot and to the corner of the Hauge Administration building. He was tackled by officers near the footpath between Xavier and Hauge. Two other subjects were in the car during the pursuit: one was a male minor and the other a 19-year-old male.
Students who were cleaning up around Red Square from the Relay for Life event, which had ended at midnight, said they heard sirens for a few minutes and as they came closer to campus they began to worry for their safety.
Senior Genevieve Brandt, one of the organizers of the event, said she heard sirens for a while and then saw police cars turn quickly onto 121st Street. She said she called the non-emergency Campus Safety (CSAF) number and they told her the incident didn’t involve PLU, so they didn’t need to worry or move from Red Square.
She said someone in the group yelled “Everyone run,” and she and a few other students took shelter in Hong Hall. The person who yelled run later told her they yelled because they saw a man being chased by deputies across the library parking lot. She said they continued to call CSAF from inside, but the line was busy and when they eventually go through they told her the situation was resolved.
“We were really close,” Brandt said. “We were pretty frustrated that we were so close to an event and Campus Safety didn’t do anything. They knew we were there. We were all really scared.”
She said they went to the CSAF office to ask “why they didn’t tell us we could be in danger,” she said, “They pretty much dismissed me and then when I refused to leave, their supervisor came out and I was told that they didn’t have enough time to figure out what was happening and to send out an alert.”
Brandt said she left the office feeling frustrated. “Campus Safety should be able to alert students when something is going on,” she said. “Being able to send a quick alert that says there’s something going on you need to stay in place is a function that I know they have and if they can’t turn it on in less than 30 seconds that doesn’t seem like it’s a very effective system. Most emergency events on campus when people are put in danger happen faster than that.”
Greg Premo, the Director of CSAF and a PCSD deputy, said no notifications were sent to students because the incident was resolved quickly and residence halls were already locked because of the late hour.
“It is not the norm to immediately hit an alert button just because somebody ran from the police,” he said. He explained that they evaluated the situation and because deputies were closely following the man fleeing his car and tackled him within a few seconds they decided not to send out an alert.
He said if the subject had gotten away, they would have sent out a notification, which would reach more than 4,000 members of the PLU community in about 15 seconds.
Premo explained that CSAF officers usually monitor the sheriff department’s radio frequency, but the deputies pursuing the vehicle were on a separate frequency because they were part of a DUI emphasis patrol. He said the deputies didn’t switch to the regular frequency until the incident was “really close to campus” and CSAF staff were trying to catch up as the subject stopped.
He said that like K-12 schools, PLU relies on local law enforcement to inform them when there are nearby incidents.
Premo said sirens and vehicle pursuits near campus are not an unusual occurrence and if students feel unsafe, they should use their best judgment to make themselves safe. “If you have any concern about what’s going on, make yourself safe. Go inside somewhere,” he said.
Calling CSAF with information about incidents is helpful, but calling to ask what’s going on can create problems for those involved in resolving the issue, Premo said.
“There needs to be at least a little level of trust that we’ll let the community know if there needs to be a PLU Alert issued,” he said. “We are not a police department and they’re not police trained. They’re doing their best to listen and watch what they can, but if we’re getting inundated with phone calls by people asking what’s going on it can inhibit our job.”
Premo said there have been talks about creating a CSAF Twitter to keep students updated about general safety and security in the area.“It wasn’t a PLU Alert level incident, but it might be something that people want to know what’s going on,” he said.
Brandt said she would also like to see CSAF work to inform students about emerging situations near campus.
“In this situation nothing bad happened, but [CSAF] didn’t know that,” Brandt said. “Just because you don’t know if it’s dangerous doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t know what’s going on.”
“If you’re a student here I would hope that you feel safe on campus and that’s what we can control,” Premo said. “That’s our job. It’s the off-campus areas that we can’t really control.”
An official report of this incident from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is available here.