UTEP Police Department addresses delayed security response in forum

Initial+Miner+Alert+notifying+students+of+shooting+suspects+near+campus+on+Oct.+29%2C+2021.

Alberto Silva Fernandez

Initial Miner Alert notifying students of shooting suspects near campus on Oct. 29, 2021.

Julia Lucero, Contributor

The Student Government Association (SGA) held a Town Hall Thursday night with the UTEP police Chief Cliff Walsh and Assistant Chief Ray Rodriguez to speak about the incident that occurred Oct. 29 after two individuals who shot and killed a 22-year-year hid on campus. 

Rodriguez said the suspects were found inside The Union Cinema around 12 a.m.  

Despite frequent testing of the Miner Alert system, students were notified of the threat at 12:15 a.m. An “all-clear” message was sent at 12:33 a.m. 

“When we were working on the Miner Alert, we didn’t do it well. We didn’t do it fast enough; we needed to do it faster and my apologies to you and to SGA and the students that you represent for our slow response,” Walsh said. 

Walsh said the response was slow  because they took too long to validate the situation. 

Walsh said the police department plans on releasing Miner Alerts to students in the case of an event that jeopardizes their safety even if they are unsure of the situation to err on the safe side.  

“That’s on me; I’m the one responsible for that,” Walsh said 

Students present at The Union building Thursday night shared their stories on what happened and concerns they have for the safety protocols on campus. 

SGA member Michael Gutierrez said other students present inside the SGA office joined together to barricade the office doors to prevent anyone from getting in.  

“It was a sobering feeling to acknowledge the fact that, if they did break in, I potentially wasn’t going to go home and I would never see my family again,” Gutierrez said. “Whether we want to acknowledge the fact or not, this entire situation that happened was a failure.” 

Student Robyn Jordan says that a UTEP police officer made an inappropriate comment about the situation a day after it happened.  

“He jokingly stated that he had ‘missed the action’ of the day before,” Jordan said. “It was very insensitive. It felt very weird to hear that and very damning because we had gone through this not even hours before this all happened.”   

Walsh asserted that the department is respectful and sympathetic of all students’ experiences on and off campus and seeks to take action against the officer that made the comment. 

“If you know the officer’s name or can describe him we’ll go back because that’s not acceptable. It’s inappropriate, it’s unprofessional, and I won’t condone it at all,” Walsh said. 

“We’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that we understand what you’re going through and how to support you in your academics, your research, your club activities, your organizational activities, all of that.” 

Students presented at the forum suggested ways improve protocol and education about safety on campus, such as improving the blue tower emergency system, educating registered student organizations on gun safety, and reviewing and revising how emergency safety information is relayed to students on campus.  

Student and building manager Alfredo Torres was working in the Union building that night.  

Torres said he found out there were suspected shooters on campus through a friend who texted him.   

Torres said he locked himself in The Union Services office for two hours and didn’t leave the building until 1 a.m. when campus police said it was safe for him to leave.  

“I saw the lights on so I went to double check to the custodial hall, but when I went into the hall I listened to some noises,” Torres said.  

“I was not even sure if I heard something or if it was all in my mind, but I just decided to not be curious at all and just go back into the office.” 

Throughout the session there was merely a solemn, silent acceptance amongst the audience. There was no outward display of emotion or confidence and an uncertain applause was all that came when SGA concluded the event. 

Rodriguez said El Paso Police Department, UTEP Security, and the FBI will have a roundtable discussion Dec. 17 to discuss the incident.  

“Your safety is everything and we need to redouble our efforts to make that happen,” Walsh said. 

Julia Lucero is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected]