A crisis in campus crime reporting

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a long-awaited report released by the Department of Education to Congress, only 40 percent of postsecondary institutions that are required by law to compile and report statistics of crime on their campuses said they follow federal guidelines in defining campus crimes.The institutions that used the mandated crime definitions, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting/National Incident-Based Reporting System, comprised 40 percent of the total number of postsecondary institutions surveyed by the DOE. The others used either state crime definitions, “common knowledge” or individual school reporting systems.The categories of crimes institutions must report statistics for are violent crimes, nonforcible sex offenses, property crimes, hate crimes, and crimes on campus. Violent crimes, as defined by the FBI, are murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault. The FBI defines nonforcible sex offenses as statutory rape and incest, although some schools include public lewdness and indecent exposure. Property crimes are defined as burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft, and hate crimes are defined as murder, forcible rape and aggravated assault. Crimes on campus are defined as liquor law violations, drug abuse violations and weapons possessions.Although less than half of institutions overall used the mandated FBI guidelines, they were reportedly used at 83 percent of public, four-year institutions, compared with 61 percent of private, four-year institutions.Under the 1990 Student Right-to Know and Campus Security Act, schools receiving federal funds through student financial aid programs must disclose information about the crimes that occur on their campuses. What form that information must take and how schools will be punished for inaccurately reporting or under reporting their crime statistics remains to be seen.The law requires schools to keep records of campus crimes, to provide those statistics to current students and employees (prospective students must ask for them), and to define the crimes in accordance with Federal Bureau of Investigation guidelines.In addition to publishing and distributing annual security reports, the law also required the Education Department to make a one-time report to Congress on school compliance with the law, which was to be completed by September of 1995. The report was released by the DOE on February 25, 1997.The report, called “Campus Crime and Security at Postsecondary Education Institutions,” did not identify colleges or their crime rates by name.An estimated 6,310 institutions were listed as participants in the financial aid programs coveredby the law. An estimated 1,218 institutions responded to the survey, thus giving a sample representative of the larger number which was weighted to produce national estimates. These include not only public and private four year colleges (32 percent), but also postsecondary institutions with programs that run two years or less (68 percent).According to the report, 87 percent of those institutions surveyed compiled annual security report information to be distributed to students and staff, leaving 13 percent that did not compile the statistics and are in violation of federal law on that basis alone.For 1994, the survey’s most recent year, a total of 9,550 violent crimes were reported by schools. During the same year the number of forcible sex offenses was 1,310, roughly the same as in 1992 and 1993.The overall rate of violent crime was 95 per 100,000 students.The Depatment of Education report can be ordered from New Orders, Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. The price is $11. The report can also be accessed on-line at: http://www.ed.gov/NCES/pubs/97402.html.