Federal bill could impact crime reporting

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate and House passed their versions of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this summer with provisions that could dramatically change reporting of campus crime in public and private schools nationwide.”We were pleased. Progress is being made. There are some last things that need to be done,” said S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, a group advocating more accurate crime reporting. “Hopefully, this federal avenue will seriously diminish administrations from covering things up.”*Crime Logs and Reports*The Senate and House significantly expanded the requirements for open campus police logs.Both bills would require schools to make easily understandable forms of campus crime reports or logs available to the public within two business days of the initial report. Exceptions would be made when open reports would jeopardize pending investigation or a victim’s confidentiality. The provisions would complement existing requirements for open logs in state open records laws.The Senate added a provision that stated information about a previously entered crime report would have to be made available to the public within two days from when the security department became aware of the information.*FERPA clarifications*The Senate also passed a revision of FERPA, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, which creates penalties for the release of student education records, said Carter. The Senate bill includes a provision allowing campus security to release records of students found guilty of committing a crime.However, the wording is such that it may mean no significant change from a 1992 amendment to FERPA that said law enforcement records are not education records. The House bill amended FERPA to allow the release of the outcome of disciplinary proceedings when a crime of violence is involved.Carter said his organization will be working with the conference committee to expand the language of FERPA that was included in the hearing. With the general education provision, in which FERPA is included, coming up for reauthorization next year, Carter said the battle over FERPA is not over yet.”I think FERPA’s days are numbered, particularly in regard to non-academic conduct. It’s just a matter of time,” Carter said.But there were some clarifications to FERPA made with the Senate’s bill. Virginia Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Charles Robb, D-Va., added a provision permitting parental notification of violations of state or federal alcohol laws by underage students.The provision was in response to a recommendation submitted by a Virginia task force that studied drinking on college and university campuses.Jonathan Amacker, deputy press secretary for the Virginia attorney general, said his office is pushing for the joint-committee conference to expand the provision even further.”We actually think FERPA can be improved to make it even better,” Amacker said. “We want to make that [exception] even more broad and have administrators be able to contact parents when a student is breaking school policy.”*Schools in non-compliance*The bill would also require the Secretary of Education to report to Congress the institutions found to be in non-compliance with campus crime reporting procedures. The provision sets up a structure to enforce compliance with fines of up to $25,000 for each instance where a violation or misrepresentation of crime statistics was found. The Department of Education was also instructed to assist schools in non-compliance to accurately report crimes.*Refining crime reporting*Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., offered an amendment on behalf of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would expand the definition of a campus for crime reporting purposes.Under the provision, schools must report incidents occurring in public areas such as sidewalks around campus and property owned by the school but controlled by third parties. Incidents occurring on property owned by the school and used by students off campus must also be included.Fred Behr, president of International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said the expansion may be burdensome on campus security officers.”They are being held responsible for things happening in another jurisdiction,” Behr said.The Specter amendment, based on the senatorís “Campus Crime Disclosure Act,” also adds a category to campus crime reporting guidelines for incidents occurring on public property near or on a campus.Behr argued the changes “could drastically effect schools in urban areas, especially in institutions where there is no fully-sworn [police] agency.”Specter, however, said the changes will help eliminate loopholes in campus crime reporting.”Accuracy in campus crime reporting is essential to give students the fullest possible picture of the risks that they face, so that they can protect themselves against becoming victims of theft or violence,” Specter said in a press release issued July 10.Both bills also added new categories to crime statistics disclosure reports. The House added manslaughter, larceny and arson. In the Senate version, murder was changed to homicide and arson was added to the list of categories.Behr said larceny is a welcome category because of the prevalence of it on campus.The Senate also added vandalism and simple assault to the disclosure categories for hate crimes.*Other Senate provisions*The Senate passed a number of provisions not included in the House bill.The Senate bill appropriated $1 million for a national study on institutionsí actions after a sexual assault incident. The Senate also approved grants totaling $10 million annually to aid campuses in combating violence against women.The bill went to a House-Senate conference committee so differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation can be ironed out before the bill is submitted to the president.