University officials follow federal law in 'timely notifications'


University officials follow federal law in ‘timely notifications'

MISSOULA, Mont. - The University of Montana follows federal regulations instated with the passing of the Clery Act when responding to assault reports like the one that came through Tuesday. A woman was allegedly strangled and injured near the intersection of the Gerald Ave and Daly in Missoula.

The report says the woman was knocked down as she walked from campus to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at around 7 p.m. Tuesday, and the suspect was reportedly last seen running from that area. The investigation is ongoing.

Students received notifications from the UM through text and email.  The University is required to put out a timely notification due to the Clery Act, which requires "all universities and colleges that use federal financial aid" to disclose crime information related to their campus. The act mandates that the notification comes out in a "timely manner."

Based on information provided by University officials, there was about three hours between the time the University's police chief was notified of the reported incident, and when the email and text alerts went out. Some students heard of the reports though the news and social media before their alert came through. University officials say they work as quickly as they can to get notifications out while verifying information and complying with federal law.

Peggy Kuhr, Vice President for Integrated Communications at the University of Montana, broke down the process and timeline for NBC Montana. She explained that the UM's police chief got word of the incident at about 9 p.m.

The next step is for him to notify an official team set up to respond to incidents like this. That team includes Presidential cabinet members and the University's legal counsel. The process can be worked through by any two members of the team. That step was taken at about 11 p.m. according to Peggy, and the notifications went out at around midnight.

"We need to look at whether there is an ongoing possible threat to safety and security. If that's the case, then we are obligated to send out notification," said Kuhr.

Some students heard about the report on social media and the news before they got the alerts , however. The editor at the school's student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, tells NBC Montana that she heard about the story on Twitter, and called her newsroom to get a reporter on it. The Kaimin posted an article about the report at roughly 11 p.m.

Kuhr says she was happy to hear that students are keeping up with campus news, and any time the media helps get the word out, it is a positive thing.

"I think every situation is different...We are working with the Office of Public Safety. There are in any of these situations, especially when they are off campus, there are lots of moving parts, so the Office of Public Safety is working with the city police, the city of Missoula...We think that however people are getting information , as long as it's accurate, is important," said Kuhr.

To compare timelines, NBC Montana looked at two timely notifications sent out by Montana's other large university, Montana State University.

In one, an alleged incident occurred on early October 26. MSU Police were called to a hospital at about 8 p.m. on October 28. A notification went out at about 6:30 p.m. the next day.

In a different warning, MSU police responded to two reports of rape at two different fraternities. A notice went out the next day at about noon.

Federal law allows schools to put out a report in a manner that is "timely" and will aid in the prevention of similar crimes, and it is up to the school to decide what is timely. 

To read excerpts of the Clery Act yourself, click here. 

More Stories