UCF police chief defends response to social media threat

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The University of Central Florida Police Department has released an image of the social media post which prompted a lockdown of the Library and an alert of possible gunman on Tuesday afternoon.  

Multiple calls to UCFPD followed, some of which described a person of "Middle Eastern" appearance, possibly a woman, having a gun in the library.   The post was initially incorrectly identified as a Facebook post but was actually generated from a texting app called GroupMe, police say.   Ultimately, no gunwoman or suspicious activity was found. 

"I am proud of students who had the courage to report what they considered at the time to be suspicious activity.  I am also pleased with officers' swift and thorough response. Most of all, I am grateful that nobody was hurt," said UCF Police Chief Richard Beary, who defended his department's actions during a news conference on Wednesday.

Officers cleared the Library following the alert which was sent before 3 p.m., and after a roughly two-hour sweep of the building, they determined that there was no credible threat.   Chief Beary said "speed is of the essence in emergency situations," and so was the importance of communicating information to the greater UCF community.

The state's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relation, issued a statement condemning UCFPD's response as xenophobic and said the initial threat was uncorroborated.  The organization is calling for a thorough investigation into the origins of the GroupMe text.

"While we recognize that a prompt alert is necessary to keep the student body and the rest of the community safe, it is extremely important they investigate how is it that they came with a 'Middle Eastern origin' as part of the alleged suspect description. This type of irresponsible and insensitive action contributes to the xenophobic rhetoric that, in turn, translates into an unsafe and unhealthy environment for minority students," said Rasha Mubarak, regional coordinator with CAIR. "This defeats the many positive efforts consistently carried out by the student body and CAIR-Florida to fight against Islamophobia, racism, and discrimination."

Chief Beary stressed that his department is trying to deal with the "new reality" of how to deal with social media threats and their legitimacy.  He emphasized that the UCFPD's response was "not perfect," citing an incident where an officer's weapon accidentally discharged in his vehicle as he was securing the rifle on a gun rack.  No one was injured. 

"I assure you that every time our emergency response is put to the test, it becomes a learning lesson and an opportunity for improvement for UCF. That certainly will be the case with this incident," he added. 

Beary was also criticized by some who wondered why students were allowed to congregate outside of the Library during the security sweep.  

"I think that if there is someone that has some kind of weapon on campus, then the entire campus should be evacuated," said student Kristalyn Taveras, "because you don’t know who that person is."  

"I feel like maybe people should have left, because that person could have been out in the crowd as well," said another student, Stephanie Miller. 

"In a perfect world, would I have liked that perimeter back? Yes, I would have.  But it would have cost me personnel," Chief Beary responded.  "So do I put the personnel inside to address the threat, or do I keep them outside to try to keep a perimeter and keep the crowd back?"

Overall, Beary gives his department high marks on the initial response. "I think for the size area that we searched in the amount of time that we did, that’s an 'A,' the perimeter a 'C,' and the accidental discharge, that’s a 'D.'" 

Beary did not identify the officer whose gun discharged, but he did say that person will remain on duty as the department investigates how it happened.