Surveying the Crime Scene
Proposed rules aim to make campus crime statistics more consumer-friendly
Washington — Colleges and universities around the country will have to provide more information about crime on their campuses if new proposals by the U.S. Department of Education are accepted this fall.
The new rules are based on last year’s revisions to the Jeanne Clery Campus Crime Statistics Act. Under the new laws, several major changes have been made to the reporting requirements by campuses.
Campus safety and journalism groups had lobbied for changes in the law, saying the current rules led to inconsistency in campus crime reports that confused prospective students and parents trying to compare the safety records of different campuses.
“This will go a long way in making sure statistics are uniform and accurate,” says Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, a watchdog group in Pennsylvania. Under the current system, he says, “one school that reports less extensive crime categories than another may actually look more safe, even though there are just different categories.”
The Campus Security Act of 1990 required colleges to make a crime report generally available on the campus and to provide it upon request to prospective students and employees. The report also is supposed to detail a college’s crime-prevention policies and procedures.
Colleges also would have to report alcohol-, drug-, and weapons-related violations handled in closed-door judiciary hearings. Previously, colleges only had to report such incidents if an arrest was made. Public safety officials also would be required to inform students about where crimes actually occurred, including off-campus areas like streets, sidewalks, and parking areas not actually owned by universities.
Under the new rules, colleges would have to provide much greater detail about hate crimes, arson, and manslaughter — crimes that did not have to be reported under the old rules.
To make sure students can find out about crimes quickly, the rules call on schools to keep public crime logs and to disclose all incidents two days after they are first reported. Colleges can make exceptions to these rules if victims want to maintain confidentiality or if police want to protect ongoing investigations.
Because of concerns about victim confidentiality, professional and religious counselors are exempt from the new proposals, but counselors would be encouraged to report incidents anonymously. Lawmakers added the language in an effort to protect confidential communications that counselors have with students. The new rule is a compromise to alleviate concerns by journalists and watchdog groups who had argued that it was possible for counselors to give statistical information without violating confidentiality.
Colleges also would have greater flexibility on how they publish crime statistics. Colleges would be able to post that information on their Web sites but still provide a “paper” copy of crime statistics upon request.
In addition, the Education Department wants to change the reporting deadline from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1. The change was made because some schools have not begun their fall terms by September or had not had time to complete a mailing list.
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