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Report: Campus Crime Reporting Falls Short

Report: Campus Crime Reporting Falls Short


      Many universities don’t fully meet the requirements of a 1990 federal law that mandates reporting campus crime, which can create a perception that the schools are safer than they really are, according to a published report.

      The Clery Act — named after Lehigh University student Jeanne Ann Clery, who was murdered in her dorm room in 1986 — requires colleges and universities to count and annually report crimes that happen on or near campus such as murder, aggravated assault and robbery.

      However, a Justice Department study released last month said that “only about a third do so in a way fully consistent with federal laws.”

      One of the schools that had underreported crimes was West Chester University in suburban Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported .

The paper examined campus police logs and found that a single sexual assault reported by West Chester for all of 2003 and 2004 rose to 14 attacks, including 10 in residence halls. Burglaries in those years increased from two to 45 at the 12,800-student university.

      Administrators blamed the disparities on classification errors.

      “If things are happening on campus, students want to know about it so they can protect themselves,” said Allison Stull, editor of the student newspaper, the Quad. “How can we do that if they’re not telling us?”

West Chester’s review led to the relabeling of nearly 60 crimes.

      “The numbers were incorrect, so we changed them,” said university spokesman Stephen Bell.

      Philadelphia-area schools account for three of at least 15 investigations by the government into reporting irregularities in the last decade.

      At La Salle University, a probe began in 2004 amid allegations that basketball coaches discouraged a female student from reporting an alleged rape by a player. The investigation is ongoing.

      In 1998, the University of Pennsylvania was found not to be complying with the Clery Act. Violators can be fined up to $27,500, but negative publicity can be a worse result for schools.

      Penn now goes beyond what the Clery Act demands by reporting all crime that occurs in its security force’s patrol area, extending a few blocks beyond the official campus lines. Temple University does the same.

      “We like to give students and parents as much information as possible,” said Maureen Rush, Penn’s vice president for public safety. “A robbery a block off campus is still of interest to the campus community.”

      Drexel, Penn’s West Philadelphia neighbor, uses tighter reporting guidelines. The Inquirer found eight robberies of at least 10 students within two blocks of the campus in 2004 campus police logs from 2004 that were not in the Clery filings.

      At the region’s seven community colleges, attended by a total of 78,000 students, the schools combined Clery figures for 2004 included just one sexual assault, two aggravated assaults, and four robberies.

Community College of Philadelphia, for one, admitted filing incomplete reports. The Clery Act requires schools to make a “good-faith effort” to count crimes that occur on the streets and sidewalks immediately bordering the campus, even if the incidents were handled only by municipal police.

      Campus-safety watchdog groups contend that the underreporting stems largely from image-sensitive schools trying to protect their images.

—Associated Press

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