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Oakland Police catch suspect on Mills campus, student body not notified

Michelle Ma

Oakland police were on campus the night of Friday, Feb. 16 in pursuit of one or more carjacking suspects who leapt the fence near Seminary Avenue, according to Director of Public Safety Michael Lopez.

By the time Lopez arrived on campus, police informed him that a suspect was in custody. The incident was included in a Public Safety weekly activity log as an “offsite incident” recorded at 9:05 p.m. but Public Safety or the administration did not release details.

“I’d like to have known what happened,” said senior Rachel Howard. She was not afraid, she said, but concerned for the safety and health of her classmates. “I wish they’d sent an e-mail to let us know that everything was okay.”

Senior Deidre McRae also said that she did not feel unsafe, and added that people should take steps to keep themselves safe. However, “they should have had a meeting or something to let everyone know what happened. Parents who send their children here want to know that they’re safe.”

As for why a campus-wide e-mail was not sent out afterward, “it was over and done with,” said Lopez. “It wasn’t newsworthy.”

Lopez said he took steps to inform students and keep them safe. He instructed the gatehouse to contact the Residential Assistants and to tell arrivals to proceed straight to their dorms.

According to Assistant Dean of Students Kennedy Golden, the gatehouse did indeed contact Dean of Students Joanna Iwata, who then made calls to Jolie Harris, who contacted the RA on Duty who was then instructed to contact the RAs.

The RA on Duty was contacted, said Student Life Coordinator Sadika Sulaiman, and had the information on hand if any residents or RAs called for more information.

“We have to be mindful of what time it is when disseminating information,” she said. In the case of this incident, she added that it happened fairly late at night. “It’s not reasonable to ask that one RA to go around to every building informing everyone.”

There is no written policy in case of an emergency where students need to be immediately notified, said Golden, but “there is an absolute chain of command.” She pointed out that contacting the RAs, who can then notify residents, is perhaps the best they can do, as there is no efficient way to notify the entire campus. “We don’t have a broadcast system.”

In a non-academic setting, Lopez said, authorities use the media to inform people of an emergency or incident in as efficient a manner as possible.

“You have to approach [an emergency] like you would approach something on the street,” said Lopez.

“If you see a patrol car on campus and you’re interested, call the gatehouse and they’ll tell you what’s happened and they’ll advise you on what to do,” said Lopez.

He added that Public Safety may not know everything, as OPD dispenses information on a need to know basis.

There is a system in place for notifying the children’s school during the daytime in case of stray dogs, felons, and other unusual circumstances, said Lopez. “They all carry cell phones. They’re contacted by cell phone and they’re sheltered in place or directed back to the children’s school.”

At night, said Lopez, the children’s school is empty and the residents should be indoors. Notifying the RAs “should take care of it.” In the daytime, he said, students are in class and otherwise scattered, which makes it much more difficult.
“If there’s an emergency going on, we definitely need people to know,” he said.

Golden pointed out that there are similar difficulties in finding students on campus during the daytime in case of an emergency or otherwise. “We have their schedules, we know where their classes are, but if they’re not in class, we can’t find them.”

As to the incident, Lopez said it “affected the campus for roughly an hour, and it was handled by the police.”

“We virtually had no involvement,” said Lopez. “What good is it to tell everyone except to instill fear that the police were on campus chasing a fleeing felon?”