Indiana college found in violation of federal crime reporting law

INDIANA — In a decision that further clarifies a college’sobligation to maintain campus police logs under federal law, theU.S. Department of Education released a May 28 report that foundSt. Mary’s College in violation of campus security reporting requirements.

The report cited the private women’s college in Notre Damefor nearly 10 years of non-compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosureof Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Statistics Act. Italso found, however, that St. Mary’s had taken steps to improveits reporting and had "not substantively misrepresented thecrime statistics."

The DOE report may have an affect on crime reporting beyondthe St. Mary’s campus. In citing five areas of non-compliance,the DOE set a precedent by clarifying the expectation that reportssubmitted to a campus police or security department for inclusionin the annual report’s crime statistics must also be includedin the school’s public campus security department crime log thatis required by another provision in the act. These reports includeanonymous reports of crimes forwarded by the campus counselingcenter.

"This position hadn’t, so far as we know, been clearlyarticulated previously," said Daniel Carter, senior vicepresident of Security on Campus, the non-profit organization thatfiled the original complaint with the DOE in May 2001.

"Although this finding doesn’t directly address non-anonymousreports, such as surveys conducted of reporting campus authoritieslike student judicial administrators after the conclusion of acalendar year, it may also indicate that these types of reportswill also have to be included in the public crime log," Cartercontinued.

Carter is concerned, however, that this policy might actuallyallow schools a loophole to withhold crime reports in the futureby altering their reporting guidelines in order to exclude themfrom the Clery Act’s jurisdiction.

"This may have an unintended consequence of giving schoolsa disincentive to either permit these anonymous reports, or tohave someone other than the police or security department compilethe annual statistics," Carter said.

At St. Mary’s, the DOE also found that crimes statistics werenot accurately disclosed, that improper crime categories wereused, that the geographical breakdown of crime statistics wasnot reported and that the annual reports lacked required securitypolicy disclosures.

College spokeswoman Melanie Engler said administratorsavoided a possible $35,000 fine and suspension of federal fundingby fully complying with the Clery Act in 2001.

The December investigation was prompted by a complaint by Securityon Campus in response to published reports about improperly handledsexual assaults at the school. The complaint alleged that thecollege failed to properly disclose sexual assault statistics,did not have required sexual assault policies, did not have asufficient "timely warning policy," and failed to useproper categories for its 1999 crime statistics.

St. Mary’s tried to rectify the complaint last July with athree-page letter to the DOE documenting changes the college hadimplemented, including the changed statistics for each wronglyreported sexual assault and a draft of their new safety and securityprocedures. Still dissatisfied, the DOE sent the institutionfollow-up questions in August and conducted on on-site investigationin December before releasing the report.

"We’re pretty clear of where the law stands right now,"Engler said. St. Mary’s will continue to educate its staff aboutcrime reporting.

An editor of The Observer, the student newspaper ofthe University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College, said thatthe investigation was beneficial.

"I hope that this investigation will send a message tosecurity on our campus that misreporting and/or concealing crimereports will not be tolerated," said Sheila Egts, St. Mary’seditor of the paper.

View the U.S. Department of Education’s findings on St. Mary’s College, courtesy of Security on Campus.Check out the SPLC’s resources for accessing campus crime information, including “Covering Campus Crime” and the Student Media Guide to the Clery Act.Read our previous coverage: