Campus crime legislation begins to move
Federal lawmakers endorse more access, but not all advocates hoped
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even though a bill aimed at opening campus disciplinary proceedings has stalled in Congress, it has inspired lawmakers to address campus crime while they are reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.
Currently floating around Capitol Hill — waiting to find a sponsor in the Senate — is the Accuracy in Campus Crime Reporting Act (ACCRA), H.R. 715, sponsored by Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., with 69 co-sponsors. The bill would revolutionize campus crime reporting by making student disciplinary hearings open to the public and by removing Buckley Amendment protections for allegations of criminal misconduct.
However, legislation adapted from ACCRA now appears in both chambers as part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998. The proposed amendments — while not a giant step toward unfettered access to crime reports — would benefit those covering campus crime.
“Congress is starting to pay more attention to this vitally important issue and [this] is a very good sign that they are beginning to realize the seriousness of how campus crime is covered up,” noted S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, Inc.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recommended in March that the chamber consider H.R. 6, an amendment to the 1965 Higher Education Act that includes provisions which would alter the way universities report campus crime in their annual statistics. The bill would require any university authority who is responsible for student disciplinary matters or activities to be surveyed for incidents that should be included in the crime statistic report.
The amendment would also broaden the categories of crime that must be reported in the annual disclosures; manslaughter, larceny and arson would be added to the list, which currently includes murder, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. In addition, the statistics would have to include incidents of alcohol, drug or weapons violations that are handled through campus disciplinary action.
The U.S. Department of Education would be required to compile and distribute the statistics. Presently the department has the authority, but no obligation to disseminate the information.
As for campus crime reporting, the amendment would require colleges and universities to maintain a daily, public police log that is easily understood. Incidents would be disclosed within two business days after they are reported.
However, police would remain free to restrict access to crime reports if “the release of such information is likely to jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation or the safety of an individual, cause a suspect to flee or evade detection, or result in the destruction of evidence.”
The open campus police logs would not be required to include the names of arrested suspects or victims.
Currently, the Senate is working on its own version of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, S. 1882. While not as comprehensive as its House counterpart, the Senate bill would add to the list of crime statistics cases of vandalism and assault that are apparent hate crimes.
Also, the amendment includes a provision for the secretary of education to establish a study on what procedures colleges and universities follow after receiving reports of sexual assault.
The Senate’s description of open police logs is similar to the bill awaiting approval by the House.
But there is little doubt that H.R. 6 is more helpful to those concerned with covering campus crime.
“Given a choice between the two we would support the language in the House version of the HEA reauthorization bill because it is more comprehensive and its drafting is better thought out,” commented Carter. “However, each version lacks certain provisions which we believe are essential ….”
Carter’s group, Security on Campus, is currently promoting in the halls of Congress four more provisions in the Higher Education Amendments. The group wants police logs to be disclosed within 24 hours; the names of persons arrested and charged on campus to be included in the logs; the annual statistical disclosure of liquor law and drug violations on campus; and, most important, the removal of Buckley Amendment confidentiality protections for student criminals in disciplinary proceedings.
The Higher Education Amendments will be voted on by each chamber before they recess in late summer.
Also on Capitol Hill right now is the Women’s Higher Education Opportunity Act, H.R. 3293, introduced by Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich. Although mostly focusing on assurances of federal aid for female students, the bill contains a provision which would specifically exempt allegations of criminal activity from the definition of academic records.
If approved, the bill would make public the results of any campus disciplinary proceedings and the punishments received by those who are found guilty in such proceedings.
Such a provision would close one more loophole that university administrators try to slip through when concealing campus crime.
Kildee’s bill also would make grants available to higher education institutions that add more security manpower charged with the task of preventing and investigating violent crimes against women on campus. When introducing the bill, he commented, “… we must not only continue, but intensify efforts to make sure that the campus is a safe haven for learning.”
reports, Spring 1998