The rape and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery still affects policy on college campuses today, even though it happened more than two decades ago.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is the law that states the guidelines under which colleges are required to compile daily crime reports and yearly statistics of on-campus crimes.
In the past three months, Campus Police responded to at least three homicides in which the victims diedof gunshot wounds within blocks of Main Campus.
Though a shooting on Nov. 29 occurred within 500 feet of the College of Engineering and Architecture building, none of the incidents appeared in Temple’s daily crime report.
“It turns the purpose of the Clery Act on its head,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate from the Student Press Law Center, who said he felt that reports of homicides so close to campus should be included in the published daily log.
“I don’t know exactly what the laws of Pennsylvania are, but I would assume you can’t just discharge a firearm on the street, so that’s a crime,” he said. “When there’s a report of firing then there’s someone with holes in them, that’s a crime.”
The issue, though, is not whether or not gun homicide is a crime, Goldstein said. It’s where the shooting occurred in relation to campus buildings and an interpretation of the language of the law.
Temple Police Captain Robert Lowell said the nuances of the law are where a lot of people who don’t work with it every day get confused.
“It’s not a matter of feet,” he said. “The Clery Law gives a series of definitions of locations [of crimes] that are reportable.”
The act defines the area on which crime must be reported as, “All public property that is within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area . . . and is adjacent to a facility owned or controlled by the institution. . .”
Lowell said that “adjacent” refers to sidewalks immediately in front of campus buildings or the outdoor area immediately across the street.
In reference to the Nov. 29 homicide Temple Police responded to, Lowell said, “That’s in front of the high-rise low-income development. Show me a university property that’s completely adjacent to the street from there. There’s not.”
He said that Campus Safety Services tends to over-report crime in an effort to fully inform the university community, but “that’s clearly not a statistical report that Clery wants us to count.”
He cited an example of a past report of a student murdered in an apartment on Diamond Street near campus that the U.S. Department of Education removed from Temple’s crime reports because it did not comply exactly with Clery regulations.
Lowell, who formerly worked for the Philadelphia Police Department, also pointed out Temple’s “non-campus” designation for the university’s crime statistics that includes buildings, such as university-recognized fraternity houses and non-campus houses and apartments where students live.
“Even though they’re not reportable [under Clery], we report them because we add the extra definition ourselves,” Lowell said. “Students live there.”
He made it clear that students and faculty will be notified if the assessment that they are in danger is ever made by Temple Police.
“We know information that’s not available to the general public about what happened here [Jan. 9], and we made a conscious decision that A, it’s not reportable, and B, it did not pose an additional danger to the students or the campus,” Lowell said.
If students lived across the street from the Norris Apartments, the scene of the Nov. 29 homicide, or the playground near 10th Street and Oxford Avenue, where Temple Police responded when a 26-year-old was shot to death Jan. 9, he said, “Even though it’s not a reportable area, we would get the information out because it would impact them.”
Student Press Law Center’s Goldstein said it was technically possible for Temple Police to respond to something that isn’t required to be disclosed.
“But the larger question here is, ‘Shouldn’t students know anyway?’” he said.
Lowell pointed out that when shootings or otherwise violent crimes happen near campus but are not provided for in the Clery Act, the local news media picks up on them, so students usually do not go uninformed.
If it was his call, Lowell said he would report crime according to a specific geographical area with boundaries similar to those of Temple’s patrolling district, which is bordered on the east and west by the railroad and 16th Street, respectively, and extends from Susquehanna Avenue to Jefferson Street.
“When we make a mistake, it’s typically because we’re trying to put out more,” he said. “That’s our philosophy – we want people to know what’s going on.”
Morgan A. Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.