Bee stings UC system with expose on campus crime reporting errors

DOE begins investigation into officials' compliance with Clery Act following allegations by local paper

CALIFORNIA -- The Department of Education began a full-blown investigation of University of California System schools' compliance with campus security regulations in October after a Sacramento newspaper published a series of articles claiming the schools were not accurately reporting campus crime statistics.   The Sacramento Bee published several articles in September attacking the way the nine UC schools reported campus crime and accusing them of violating the Clery Act, a federal law that requires schools to publish annual crime statistics gathered from a number of official university sources.   The investigation into the UC campuses' crime-reporting methods was announced Oct. 10 after the publication of The Bee's articles and pressure from Security on Campus, a national watchdog organization that helped enact the Clery Act.   The articles reported that two-thirds of the UC schools omitted sexual assaults reported to university sources other than the police and failed to report crimes that happened off campus or were reported at medical centers. Also, The Bee claimed that some crimes were miscategorized or so broadly labeled that certain crimes became nonexistent.

"Students are put at an unnecessary risk when information about campus crime is kept from them in this manner because they are unable to make informed decisions about precautions that they may choose to take," said Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, in a complaint filed against UC Davis on Oct. 2. "This situation is especially serious because other schools in California and across the country will be closely watching. If this institution is permitted to exclude incidents based on the criteria they have established, other schools will likely follow suit, thus weakening this critically important law."   UC Davis was the only campus that refuted The Bee's series of articles. It requested a full retraction, claiming the campus complied with the Clery Act and that the paper published erroneous information and omitted other information. Bee editors said they stand by their articles.   Michael Reese, spokesman for the UC System president's office said he thinks the DOE's investigation is a good idea because it will help clarify any confusion about the way schools are supposed to report campus crime. But he claimed UC schools were being unnecessarily singled out because schools all over the U.S. have the same problems.

"This is not a UC-specific problem," Reese said. "The Sacramento Bee depicted it as a UC-specific problem. It is a nationwide problem. Campuses across the country are grappling with these very same issues, and hopefully some good will come out of it in that there will be some recognition of the nationwide scope of this. [The Clery Act] is an evolving, very complex piece of legislation."   In an attempt to further combat the inability of the Education Department to keep track of colleges' campus crime reporting methods, Security on Campus asked the DOE to establish a Clery Act compliance office. In an Oct. 5 letter to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Howard and Connie Clery, co-founders of Security on Campus, explained the need for such an office and criticized the DOE's continued failure to enforce the law.

"A campus security compliance office must be established and funded to educate the schools about their obligations, perform random audits, enforce the Act through fines, and collect annual crime statistics for public dissemination," the Clerys said in the letter.   Carter said he met with two of Specter's aides Nov. 10 in an attempt to convince them that such an office is important and desperately needed to keep track of the way schools report campus crime.

"We envision an office that would provide technical assistance, receive complaints, sanction those schools in violation and collect crime statistics," he said.   Carter said Security on Campus will begin lobbying for the office as soon as the 107th Congress convenes in January.

reports, Winter 2000-01