Congress unanimously passes campus crime security legislation

Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Working to shed light on violence on the nation's campuses, Congress this week voted to change rules on reporting campus crimes and accessing campus court proceedings.

The House unanimously adopted a number of changes to the Higher Education Act of 1998 last night. The Senate passed the legislation 96 to 0 this morning. The bill, which contains extensive campus security language, now goes to the president to be signed.

Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based campus violence prevention group working for the measure, applauded the week's votes.

S. Daniel Carter, SOC vice president, said that he was not surprised by Congress' overwhelming approval. “It was just a matter of working out the differences. We didn't get everything we wanted, but that's the legislative process,” Carter said.

Both the House and Senate voted earlier this year to include many of the changes in separate versions of the act. Conferees from each house met earlier this month to resolve various differences in the bills and submitted a compromise last week.

We're hoping that the final bill will better inform “students and the community as a whole and allow them to take precautions to avoid becoming victims,” Carter said. He said communities would be better able to deal with campus crime now. “Everybody needs to take it very seriously.”

“In order for the system to provide justice for all, there has to be accountability and you can't have that if it's not an open process. It robs the victims of justice,” Carter said.

John W. Lowery, a doctoral fellow at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, disagreed that the changes to the Higher Education Act were necessary.

He said: “Public access is not the best means to achieve accountability. There are two issues involved: one is the public's right to know and the other is the privacy rights of students. That's the trade-off to public access.”

Lowery has been one of the principal opponents of the changes. “My concern in part is about the release of the full records, identifying the accused student and other [people who may be found innocent]. And also, how we determine what a 'crime of violence' is. This makes it difficult to determine what the impact will be.”

Under the legislation, universities would be required to “prepare, publish, and distribute, through appropriate publications or mailings, to all current students and employees, and to any applicant for enrollment or employment upon request, an annual security report,” which would contain information on:

  • How to report criminal actions or other emergencies occurring on campus.
  • Current policies concerning security and access to campus facilities, including campus residences.
  • Current policies concerning campus law enforcement, including the enforcement authority of security personnel, including their working relationship with state and local police agencies.
  • The type and number of programs designed to inform students and employees about campus security procedures and practices.
  • Statistics concerning the occurrence of crime on campus, during the most recent calendar year, and during the two preceding calendar years for which data are available, of the following criminal offenses reported to campus security authorities or local police agencies: murder, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft.
  • The schools' policy concerning the monitoring and recording through local police agencies of criminal activity at off-campus student organizations that are recognized by the institution, including those student organizations with off-campus housing facilities.
  • Statistics concerning the number of arrests for the following crimes occurring on campus: liquor law violations, drug abuse violations and weapons possessions.

The bill also defines the term “campus” as “any building or property owned or controlled by the institution of higher education within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area and used by the institution in direct support of, or related to its educational purposes; or any building or property owned or controlled by student organizations recognized by the institution.”

Schools will also be required to maintain a public police log of all reported crimes. Although there will be certain exceptions to protect ongoing investigations and victims of sensitive crimes such as sexual assault.

The final result of disciplinary proceedings involving crimes of violence or nonforcible sex offenses will no longer be prohibited from disclosure. The only name that can be disclosed without written consent is that of the accused student, and there is no obligation that this information be released. Schools will be able to release to parents of students who are under age 21 information about alcohol-or drug-related disciplinary violations.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said: “This certainly is an important advance. The police log requirement is going to make a huge difference for many private school students. And the provision allowing the release of the outcome of disciplinary proceedings when crimes of violence are at issue is going to be very important, too.

“Unfortunately, much of this is going to depend on how closely schools follow these new requirements,” he said. It will also be up to the Department of Education to enforce the rules, he said. “Time will tell.”