Loopholes in Clery Act Reporting: How ASU can skew its crime statistics!

Lengthy but good read from publicintergrity.org, in regard to campus police department’s abilities to skew sexual assault data through Clery Act loopholes.

The Clery Act requires some 7,500 colleges and universities — nearly 4,000 of which are four-year public and private institutions — to disclose statistics about crime on or near their campuses in annual security reports.

Many provisions have evolved since the law passed 19 years ago, but what hasn’t changed is Clery’s requirement that schools poll a wide range of “campus security authorities” when gathering data. That designation includes a broad array of campus programs, departments, and centers, such as student health centers, women’s centers, and even counseling centers. The designation also applies to officials who supervise students — deans, coaches, housing directors, judicial affairs officers, to name a few.

In theory, those stipulations should make for comprehensive crime reporting.

But the data gathering isn’t always meticulous. In fact, a 2002 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found that “only 36.5 percent of schools reported crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Clery Act.” A Center examination of 10 years worth of complaints filed against institutions under Clery shows that the most common problem is that schools are not properly collecting data. Some submit only reports from law-enforcement officials. In August 2004, Yale University became the subject of a complaint after it was discovered to be doing just that. Five years later, the U.S. Department of Education has yet to finish its review; a department spokesperson declined to comment on the pending inquiry.

Other schools submit inaccurate sexual assault statistics — in some cases inadvertently; in others cases, intentionally. Nearly half of the 25 Clery complaint investigations conducted by the Education Department over the past decade determined that schools were omitting sexual offenses collected by some sources or failing to report them at all. In October 2007, the department fined LaSalle University, in Philadelphia, $110,000 for not reporting 28 crimes, including a small number of sexual assaults.

There’s also been misclassification of sexual assaults. Schools can wrongly categorize reports of acquaintance rape or fondling as “non-forcible” sexual offenses — a definition that should only apply to incest and statutory rape. Five of the 25 Clery audits found schools were miscoding forcible rapes as non-forcible instead. In June 2008, Eastern Michigan University agreed to pay the department $350,000 — the largest Clery fine ever — for a host of violations, including miscoding rapes.

Another limitation of the Clery Act: it counts only those crimes occurring on or near campuses, and in school-affiliated buildings like fraternity houses. The initial thinking behind this narrow geographic focus was that off-campus crimes would inevitably be documented by local police, experts say. But that means that Clery statistics don’t include such settings as off-campus apartments, where most campus-related rapes are believed to take place. Last year, Jacqui Pequignot, who heads the victim advocate program at Florida State, recorded just nine sexual offenses on or near campus, as compared to 48 off campus. Pequignot, who estimates that 36,000 of FSU’s 42,000 students live in apartments more than a block from the university, notes that critics often suspect misreporting whenever they don’t see huge numbers of campus sexual assaults. “But sometimes,” she says, “it’s really just about the fact that the numbers are greater off campus.”