Congress takes aim at campus crime

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress jumped into action last fall, taking up various issues concerning campus crime.Student journalists and campus security activists have recently lobbied Congress to support legislation that would increase pressure on reluctant universities to release crime information.In September, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Department of Education to make campus security compliance a priority. The unanimous vote approving H.Res. 470 issued a challenge to Secretary of Education Richard Riley’s thus far limited effort to monitor safety on the nation’s college campuses.Under the 1990 Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, every college and university receiving any federal funding must compile campus crime statistics. In remarks made earlier this year, however, the Education Department said monitoring schools’ compliance with the law was not a “priority.”Lax supervision by the Department, including a missed deadline for a Congressionally mandated compliance report (due September 1995), has given universities free reign over issuing questionable statistics, critics say. Many schools have been accused of altering or under-reporting crime rates to make campuses look safer.Before the vote on H.Res. 470, criticism of Riley’s actions and university non-compliance with the law were heard at a Sept. 11 Capitol Hill press conference. Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa.), Chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee and co-sponsor of H.Res. 470, chided the Education Department for its lack of aggressiveness in enforcing the law. He suggested that if the current resolution does not force the department into action, then stronger measures would be taken.”I want the presidents of colleges and universities to make this their number one priority,” Goodling commented.Among those who spoke at the conference were Connie Clery, whose daughter Jeanne Anne was raped and murdered in 1986 by a fellow student who broke into her Lehigh University dorm room. After discovering negligent and conflicting information relating to Lehigh’s reporting of campus crime, the Clery family has pursued stricter state and local laws for reporting campus crime information.Other speakers included Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), co-sponsor of the resolution; Connie Clery’s son Benjamin; Addie Mix, the mother of a campus crime victim and founder of Reclaim a Youth; campus crime victim Christy Brzonkala; Society of Professional Journalists President Steve Geiman; Student Press Law Center Executive Director Mark Goodman and Jennifer Markiewicz, a former editor of the Miami Student who is currently involved in a public records lawsuit with Miami University of Ohio.At the conference, the Clerys and others also pushed for adoption of the Open Campus Police Logs Act, H.R. 2416. Earlier in year, Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and 38 co-sponsors proposed the bill, which would provide a national standard of timely access to campus police records.Supporters of this bill hoped it would go even further than the Campus Security Act in notifying students about the status of crime on campus. Hearings for H.R. 2416 were held before a subcom- mittee last summer. Since then, however, the bill has languished.Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Senate companion of the Open Campus Police Logs Act, S. 2065, in September. When introducing the bill, Feinstein commented that “students — and their parents — expect not only a quality education [at school], but also a campus on which they can study and live in safety.”Referring to the Campus Security Act, Feinstein also said her bill is needed because “under-reporting of crime statistics by school administrators and the utilization of internal campus disciplinary systems…have rendered the existing law ineffective.”Despite the attention campus crime received on the hill this year, the Open Campus Police Logs Act did not pass either house before Congress adjourned in October. The bill would have amended the Higher Education Act of 1965, which is up for reauthorization by Congress next year. Advocates hope to reintroduce the legislation at that time.Connie Clery, who helped create Security on Campus, a not-for-profit organization that monitors campus crime issues, commented, “I’m very optimistic for next year. We want to keep the momentum going, but I’m confident that together, we’ll win out.”