Education Department rolls out new standards for campus crime reports
College students across the country will soon be better informed about the safety of their campuses if proposals by the U.S. Department of Education are accepted this fall.
In response to last year's congressional revisions to the Jeanne Clery Campus Crime Statistics Act, the Education Department has suggested new standards for reporting of campus crimes. It is seeking public reaction to the proposals before submitting them for final approval to Secretary of Education Richard Riley.
Federal and state laws currently require universities to report and publish statistics about on-campus crimes. But until now, there have been no standard categories for schools to use in their reports.
Inconsistency in campus crime reports can lead to confusion for prospective students who try to compare campuses but find the different statistical categories hard to compare. The new regulations would collect standard information from every school.
“This will go a long way in making sure statistics are uniform and accurate,” said Daniel Carter, vice president of the Pennsylvania-based advocacy group, Security on Campus. He said that under the current system, “one school that reports less extensive crime categories than another may actually look more safe, even though there are just different categories.”
Another proposed change would require schools to publish information about crimes that occur in off-campus areas frequented by students. For example, streets, sidewalks and parking areas not owned by universities would still be subject to campus crime reports if they were adjacent to or accessible from the campus.
“That's really important,” Myra Kodner, program coordinator for Security on Campus, said “You're making people aware of the entire surrounding. You're no longer insulated.”
However, crimes that occur in non-campus facilities, such as fraternity houses or remote classrooms, would be reported separately.
To help keep students aware of safety concerns, schools would also be required to keep public crime logs, in which any on-campus crimes would be noted within two days of their being reported. Exceptions could be made to maintain victims' confidentiality or to protect pending investigations.
The new proposals exempt professional and religious counselors from being required to report crimes, but they encourage counselors to report such instances anonymously. Kodner says this reflects a compromise between people who support victims' rights to confidentiality and people who want all crimes reported.
“We believe it's important that as many statistics be reported as possible,” Kodner said. “Originally, we had hoped that there would be some type of reporting obligation, but this compromise is acceptable. We're hoping that schools will take advantage of this opportunity to give anonymous reporting.”
The proposed regulations would also require more extensive reporting of hate crimes, arson and homicide — offenses that could previously go unreported because of loopholes in the law. Under the proposed reforms, the most serious offense at any crime scene would be reported. If someone committed rape and aggravated assault, for example, schools would have to report the rape — the more serious of the two crimes.
But not all of the proposals tighten regulations for universities. The proposals allow schools to publish their reports on the Internet instead of on paper, as long as schools provide hard copies upon request. Schools also would have an extra month to publish their annual reports.
The proposals were made in mid-August and will take effect in July 2000 if they are accepted. Carter said he was confident that Riley would approve the proposals without any major revisions.