Substandard crime reporting is an increasing trend on college and university campuses across the nation, according to a recent U.S. Justice Department report.
The study, which was released last month, found that only one in three colleges and universities fully meet the requirements of a federal law mandating the reporting of campus and campus-area crime.
Enacted by Congress and enforced by the Department of Education in 1990, the Clery Act requires higher education institutions receiving federal financial aid to annually count and disclose specified crimes. The law is named after Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was tortured and murdered by another student in her dorm room in 1986.
Among those not complying with the Clery Act, West Chester University was found to be in direct violation of the law’s crime reporting specifications. A Philadelphia Inquirer examination of campus police logs revealed that the school had been underreporting serious crimes.
West Chester administrators widely blamed the inaccuracies on dissimilarities between state and federal crime classifications. Crime figures on the university’s Web site have since been corrected.
Within the past decade, the government has launched more than 15 investigations into reporting anomalies. At least three of these involve Philadelphia-area schools, including the University of Pennsylvania in 1998 and La Salle University in 2004.
Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services, insists that a possible government audit of Temple’s crime reporting methods would yield positive results.
“If you see a bunch of zeros across the board in certain areas, it’s a red flag,” Leone said. “We know better than to do anything like that.”
Leone said Temple’s crime statistics are published within an annual security report, as required by the Clery Act. More than 60,000 copies of the report are then mailed to all students, prospective students, faculty and staff in both March and October of each year.
Leone vouched for the report’s accuracy by attributing it to commentary from Temple community members.
“We have a lot of avenues of gathering information,” he said. “That’s why I’m really confident that our numbers are pretty on target.”
All of the information included in the report refers to crime that occurred within the university reporting area. The area’s boundaries extend from Susquehanna Avenue to Jefferson Street and Delhi to 16th streets.
The offenses taking place outside of the reporting area are still recorded by campus police but are not counted statistically nor are they included within the yearly publication. The Philadelphia Police are subsequently made aware of the incidents and both jurisdictions cooperate in knowing about area crime.
“At some point, we have to say when,” said Leone. “In all honesty, we have to look at it and say ‘what’s practical?'”
The newly constructed communications center, which is located at police headquarters on Main Campus, is where the crime reporting process begins at Temple. Equipped with video surveillance monitors of campus locations and a sophisticated alarm panel system, the center receives incoming crime alerts from all of Temple’s area campuses, according to Communications Lt. James Ingelido.
Each crime is assigned a specific number and then inserted into a central computer system. The facts are then transferred to the investigations unit, which adds all the additional information necessary to file reports.
Capt. Robert M. Lowell, of the investigations unit, is responsible for overseeing this procedure. “If there’s a mistake, it’s my mistake,” he said.
Lowell detailed past confusion at many universities about crime categorization.
“When the Clerys produced their law … some of the definitions were unclear,” he said. “Particularly in regards to burglary and theft.”
Theft, which accounts for the majority of crime on Temple’s campus, is defined as the unlawful taking of property. It is not necessary to report theft to the federal government. However, by the Clery Act’s standards, a theft becomes a burglary if it can be proven that the offender entered the premises illegally.
“A lot of departments were making some mistakes in either coding in the theft rather than the burglary,” Lowell said, adding that Temple is currently in the process of changing past statistics for theft and burglary to accomomdate the Clery Act’s specifications.
Although safety administrators maintain that they are doing an exemplary job of publicizing crime, many students remain dubious.
“They’re doing an average job,” Tamika Rudder, a sophomore public relations major, said. “I think they need to make people more aware rather than putting an annual thing in your mailbox that you can immediately throw away.”
Jackie Foss, a freshman biochemistry major, was also doubtful.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Foss said. “Someone could get murdered over there and I wouldn’t really hear about it.”
Other students, including freshman biology major Lauren Averbuch and sophomore marketing major Chris Myslinski, expressed their satisfaction with crime reporting at Temple.
Despite student criticism, Lowell said that his department is releasing information to the best of its ability.
“We do the best we can and we try and be as completely honest, open and above board,” he said. “Mistakes are made, but, if they are, it’s a matter of interpretation.”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.