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Required crime reports vary in detail by university

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While all colleges are required to release annual reports detailing certain crimes that were reported on-campus, not all reports are the same. Federal law dictates which crimes must be included, but some Big Ten universities go beyond that.

Indiana University, for example, breaks nonforcible sex offenses into categories of statutory rape and incest, beyond the forcible sexual assault offenses. Penn State University has specifics on embezzlement, forgery, fraud and prostitution. Rutgers University’s report includes statistics on fondling and serving alcohol to people under the age of 21.

Not all of those additional categories are technically part of the school’s Clery data, but they are notably included in the same documents.

The Clery Act was designed to make college campus crime information readily available. It was created in the name of Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986 after crime warnings were not sent out after a series of violent crimes on campus. It is speculated that she could have been more cautious if she had known about the crimes, which in turn could have prevented her unrelated death.

As part of that act, colleges and universities are required to publish an annual security report by Oct. 1 that includes certain crime statistics on campus from the past three calendar years. Those statistics include crimes such as sex offenses, burglaries, murder, robberies and motor vehicle thefts.

But more information isn’t a bad thing, said Frank LoMonte, a lawyer and the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which is a legal assistance agency that works with student journalists.

“The Clery Act is a minimum, not a maximum,” he said. “There’s no reason not to volunteer additional information. You could say that’s commendable that they’re being more transparent than the bare minimum.”

He said, though, he thinks most schools just track that federally required information and stop there, though the Clery Act was intended to provide families with information they’d want to know when looking at crime statistics.

This year’s reports did include newly required figures about domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. University Police Chief Paul Denton said those categories were added to comply with changes to the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994 to help combat violence against women.

Other than adding those mandatory categories, Abigail Boyer of the Clery Center for Security on Campus said it varies how much schools go above and beyond the requirements.

She said she’s been noticing institutions issuing more notifications for crimes that “might affect their campus community.” As part of the Clery Act, schools must issue timely warnings about the Clery Act crimes that present a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community.

So far this year, OSU has issued eight public safety notices. Four were related to sexual assaults, two were related to robberies, one was related to an armed robbery and one was related to an attempted armed robbery.

As far as the annual security report goes, though, only crimes on campus or in facilities like certain remote classrooms or Greek Life housing have to be included. LoMonte said he’s found many colleges stop at the police station and don’t look at crimes reported at other places on campus when reporting crime statistics. But “that’s not what the law says,” he said.

Colleges and universities are supposed to pull together statistics from “campus police or security, local law enforcement and other school officials who have ‘significant responsibility for student and campus activities,’” according to the Clery Center website.

OSU works with Columbus Division of Police, Clinton Township and Upper Arlington police departments, the Office of Student Life, the Office of University Compliance and Integrity’s Clery Act coordinator, the OSU Wexner Medical Center and the athletics department for its report. All of those entities and people provide information to be included in the report, OSU’s 2014 annual campus security reort states.

But the report doesn’t include statistics for the off-campus area, where many students live. Denton, of University Police, said most crimes that occur in the off-campus area aren’t in the report.

He said despite University Police’s joint jurisdiction agreement with the Columbus Division of Police, University Police is not obligated to include off-campus statistics in the report. He said Columbus Police has its own reporting obligations.

The joint jurisdiction agreement allows University Police to take action against felonies or misdemeanor thefts or violent offenses officers observe off-campus, as long as officers are on campus or traveling to or from campus while they observe the incident.

Denton said, however, crimes reported on public property immediately adjacent to and accessible to the university, such as on a sidewalk on North High Street, are included.

Some students said they think it’s good that some colleges and universities include more than what’s required by law in their annual Clery Act reports.

“It’s important, especially for big schools, to go further than what the law dictates (in reporting),” said Lyndsay Jozsa, a first-year in aerospace engineering. “It’s just better to go above and beyond for something as serious as that.” 

Jozsa said with there being a lot of people on campus and a lot of crime happening, it’s important to go beyond the reporting requirements. She added that it shows a university cares about its students if it discloses additional statistics.

She said she thinks OSU has done an adequate job keeping students up to date with crime information, especially with the public safety notices that have been issued this year. Even so, Jozsa said she’d like to see crime statistics from the off-campus neighborhoods included.

“It’s kind of sketchy because a lot of students do live in the off-campus neighborhood and they should kind of care about the students in general, not just the ones living here and their safety on campus,” she said.

Ben Albert, a third-year in biomedical engineering, agreed.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the university’s responsibility,” he said. “But it probably would be helpful if they would provide that (data).”

Others, like Lauren Todd, a third-year in English, said although she thinks the university has done a better job of informing students about crimes via public safety notices, there is still room for improvement.

“I don’t think they’re doing a very good job,” Todd said. “They kind of just touch on it really quickly, like, ‘Hey, by the way, someone got raped recently this past week, but don’t worry about it.’

“They don’t give you any further indication of what they’re doing to stop it or how they’re going to keep the campus safe.”

Logan Hickman and Nick Roll contributed to this story.

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